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28.06.2018 - Manuel Ermann

The dilemma with herbicides and fungicides

The dilemma with herbicides and fungicides

The field days of the large agricultural companies usually follow an evaluated scheme: In the main tent, an introductory presentation on the status quo of the farm is first held after breakfast, followed by a specialist presentation. Afterwards, the guests take a look at the company's trial fields and are informed about the latest varieties and plant protection products by the company's technical and sales advisors. Finally, there will be a joint lunch  - so there is that..

But on June 20, 2018, the field day of Syngenta Agro GmbH in Methau will start a little differently: With a serious and insistent look, Managing Director Dr. Manfred Hudetz will look at the bunch of about 400 farmers present. He outlines in direct words the precarious situation in which the agricultural and in particular the crop protection industry currently finds itself. On the one hand, there are political uncertainties and enormous social pressure. On the other hand, there are inadequacies in authorization and advice, as well as errors in the application of plant protection products. According to Hudetz, all these things are currently causing him headaches. What do you do when consultants recommend savings of up to 50% on herbicides, for example, or when farmers apply a fungicide over and over again? What do you do if resistance to an active ingredient develops quickly and crop protection products are worthless just a few years after they are approved because they are ineffective? New active ingredients must then be developed and old ones combined with each other. In other words, a lot of money is spent on forging swords whose blades soon become blunt.

You can therefore understand, and to some extent sympathize with, Dr. Hudetz's concerns. It is about nothing less than the sustainability of modern plant production. His appeal to farmers is clear. They seem to understand him, because it is getting quiet in the tent.

However why do agricultural advisors advocate savings on pesticides? Are they just acting reckless when they oppose the recommendations of the agricultural companies? Not really, because experience has shown that high yields can be achieved even with a reduced use of funds.

It is a fact that stands vary considerably from year to year. No stand is really homogeneous: some sub-areas have up to three times as much biomass as others. What happens now if we work with reduced application rates on a uniform basis? A constant application of the agents inevitably leads to extreme over- and under-dosing. If you calculate this once, we spray around 300% on the poor developed stands and on the well developed ones it is already well below 50% of the recommendation. The former is a waste of resources, while the latter does not reliably cover all weeds and fungi. This gives the target organisms the opportunity to defend themselves against the applied active ingredients due to under-dosing - they become resistant.

What could be the key to solving this dilemma? It is possible to variably adjust the spray rate to the differences in stand size on each sub-area. This can be achieved with an intelligent online sensor system that recognizes the differences in the crop in real time and adjusts the spray rate directly to these differences. This has been proven to increase yields and save crop protection agents. Errors in the dosage are impossible. As a result, economic advantages are achieved and the development of resistance is delayed. Top agricultural companies have been using this system for years and can confirm the advantages and potential.

The farmers in Methau will have lunch after visiting the experimental fields. With roast pork, potato salad and twist bread their hunger is satisfied in the tent. The noise level is high, the farmers have a lot to talk about. Dr. Hudetz sits in the middle of the crowd and talks animatedly to three young practitioners. All three listen to him attentively, one of them frowns. But the majority of the guests seem to have already forgotten the admonitory words of the Syngenta Agro Managing Director. There is joking and laughter again - all well and good.

This project received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 720176.



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