Selecting Chemicals that Work for Your Farm

Published online: Dec 01, 2018 News
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Source: Farmer's Business Network 

here are some best practices to follow if you want to make a practical ag chemical plan that works. Farmer's Business Network has outlined some tips and tricks for how to put together your plan and then efficiently select and buy the best chemicals for that plan—without breaking the bank.

How to make an ag chem plan you can use

There is no one-size-fits-all chemical plan. Depending on your crop rotation and tillage, as well soil types, pests and diseases, each farm has specific needs to address when developing a chemical plan.

Finding the right pest management and weed control programs for your farm can seem like a daunting task, but thinking of them holistically can help you to develop a plan that will protect the yield potential you planted.

Spraying chemicalsWhat to Put Down: Selecting the Right Chemicals for Your Chem Plan

Like all input decisions, deciding exactly what chemicals to purchase is a bit of a balancing act—figuring out what active ingredients your plan needs and when, and measuring that plan against the ease of ordering, delivery timing and cost (or in some cases, what it could cost you not to buy).

Here are a few things to consider as you start to create your chem plan:

  • Know your cropping plan: Crops have diverse needs and tolerate weed, insect and and disease pressures differently. And plantback intervals vary between crops, sometimes even for the same product. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re planting—so you don’t restrict yourself with a herbicide that has a plantback interval that may be too long to work. 

  • Rotate your modes of action: It would be easy to just do what’s worked before, but we all know that eventually, any pest management program can lose its effectiveness. By making sure you’re utilizing multiple modes of action, you’ll be able to fight weeds in multiple growth stages and prevent any resistance issues that have become prevalent on farms across the country. 

  • Consider your tillage practices. Be sure to take tillage into account as you’re creating your chem plan. No-till, reduced till, minimum till, ridge-till and full tillage may each require a different herbicide program. For example, are you planning to till your soil before planting? If that’s the case, then you may not need to use a burndown herbicide because any weeds will be pushed under from rotating soil. 

  • Know your field history: Knowing what weeds, insects and diseases you dealt with in previous years can help you select the products you will need this year to combat any threats that carried over.

  • Think long term: Take into consideration the weeds and insects you may see in corn versus soybeans, as well as any other crop you may consider planting—a cover crop or specialty crop, for example. Don’t let a pest linger that will be a danger to the next crop in your rotation, or in planting something new down the road.

Generics vs. Branded Chemicals

Whether you’re looking to buy peanut butter, pain relievers, or crop protection chemicals, a branded product from a company you know over a low-cost, no-name generic feels like the safe choice. But what’s the real difference between generic and branded ag chemicals?

If the branded product is three times more expensive, is it also three times more effective? What does a branded chemical really add to your bottom line?

Wondering how to start comparing? Our guide to understanding branded vs. generic ag chemicals will answer your common questions, including:

  • What is a generic ag chemical?
  • Do generic products work as well as the equivalent branded products?
  • Are generic products identical to branded products?

A generic ag chemical is manufactured and sold by a company other than the original manufacturer, but contains the same Active Ingredient(s). Generic chemicals are typically “off-patent”, meaning their original patent has expired. Thousands of farmers use generic products on hundreds of crops.

While generic products are not identical to their branded equivalents, they tend to be very similar in terms of performance. In fact, to receive an EPA registration, a generic product must have the same technical make-up as the branded version. Often generic and branded products are even manufactured by the same companies.

Generic products are not always identical, so it’s critical that farmers read their product labels to understand the differences.

Read more about generic vs. branded ag chemicals.

When to Put it Down: Timing Your Expected Applications

Knowing your typical application types and when you traditionally have spray application windows is a significant part of developing a solid chem plan for your operation—when matters as much as where and how.

By being aware of what, when, where and how works best for your farm, you can develop a plan that helps manage all of your pest control concerns while making the fewest number of passes necessary.

The most common application windows are:

Early pre-plant: These applications are made 15-30 days before planting and are generally non-selective herbicides that burn down early weeds ahead of the planter. This is a good time to apply herbicides with residual control. If you do not plan to till your soil, or are in a reduced-till or minimum-till system, then a burndown can help you gain control of weeds that wouldn’t be destroyed by tillage.

Pre-plant: These applications are made in the window from 15 days prior to planting up until the planting date. This is an important window if you were unable to get into your fields for an early burndown and have a need to get moving with planting. Be careful with their herbicide choices here, as some herbicides have plantback restrictions that may prohibit them from being used so close to planting. This is also a good window for a soil-applied insecticide.

Pre-emergence: These applications are made after planting, but before plants emerge from the soil. These chemicals help manage any weeds that have popped up since pre-plant burndown applications, and can provide residual control for certain weeds until the crop has had time to get established.

Post-emergence: The post-emergence window includes anything that goes on once the crop is up and running. It is important to be aware of what the label specifies as the timing window, as this will help you get the most out of your in-season applications. A fungicide application is often usually made during this time (around VT-R1 growth stage in corn and R3-R4 growth stage in soybeans), and if insect pressure is a concern, many farmers will add an insecticide to their spray applications during this window.

Harvest aids: This window is used to take down any late-season weeds that may make the crop more difficult to harvest.

Selecting the Right Chemicals for Your Operation

Premix versus Tank Mix

Ag chemical products can come premixed or can be combined in a tank mix. Finding the right product mixes for your operation is important because mix type may help you to determine how much time and effort you want to spend prior to spraying.

For premixes, the ratio of chemicals is prepared for the highest volume of use in a particular region. But for different climates and soil types, the optimal volume is not necessarily the highest volume, so be sure to read your labels and know the rates you want to apply. Also, when using a premix, the best application timing window for multiple products is usually determined by the combination ingredient ratios in the mix, which are developed by the manufacturer. However, this suggested timing may not always match up precisely with the ideal application timing for your farm, if you were to use the products included in the premix individually. So keep timing in mind when choosing a premix versus tank mix.

Tank mixes provide more freedom to customize your mix. However, it becomes essential to have a thorough understanding of guidelines and labels for each product you plan to apply. Tank mixes require the ability to combine and handle the products properly, which is important to ensure uniform coverage and effective control. Improper mixing can be costly, particularly if the spray tank becomes clogged or damaged.

How Much Chemical Do I Need?

Figuring out how much chemical you need depends on the number of acres you plan to spray, what equipment you’ll be using and how many applications you’ll be making. All product labels will carry recommended application rates for each crop, timeframe and targeted pest.

Need to know on chemical rates

The rate of chemical to apply to your crop is always included on the product’s label. The recommended rate is often based on the amount of active ingredient in the product, its intended use and the expected reaction to expect from plants based on the size of the area to be sprayed. Rates can also be described in pounds or volume of product per acre, depending on whether it is a liquid, granular or powdered substance.

Watchouts for equipment

The equipment you use and how well it is calibrated will also play in to how much chemical you’ll need. While the proportions in your mixes will remain the same, you’ll have to consider if you’re measuring for a small backpack sprayer, a large boom sprayer or anything in between. The size of your tank impacts how much product you need to have on hand in any given application.

Know your storage needs

The EPA has guidelines placed around the best practices for the storage of many agricultural chemicals, so making so you have the right space to store and protect your chemical investment is something to think about before you take receipt of it. Many pesticides come in a variety of formulations (dry or liquid), and an assortment of package sizes, from jugs and drums to larger totes and bulk tanks. With so many choices, be sure to know the space you have for what you’re going to buy — but know that you don’t always need to take receipt of chemicals on-farm at the moment you buy. You can often have them delivered with in several days of anticipated use.

Get the Ag Chemical Guide

Trialing a New Chemical: Try a Strip Trial First

On-farm field trials can help you gain valuable information about how well another chem application or different seed varieties may work on your fields without investing in it across the entire crop in the first year. The basis of an on-farm field trial is determining how a product/method/technology stacks up against another (or the absence) in the same field.

Strip trials are just what they sound like—sections, or strips of a field, planted to different hybrids for comparison, or strips of a field treated differently to compare best management practices. The comparison among strips helps a farmer to determine which hybrid or practice would be most profitable and effective on all, or most, of their farms.

When Should I Buy the Ag Chem for My Plan?

Are you planning to use many of the same chemistries that performed well for you this year? If so, you are probably not the only farmer who wants to get their hands on them.

Chemical Prices and Timing

Herbicides and insecticides can account for as much as 15 percent of your variable cost of production.2 Every dollar matters—small price variations can add up to have a big impact.

Purchasing your crop protection and chemicals in the fall can offer you two main advantages:

  1. Better prices in the fall. This time of year, many products are often on sale to clear inventory for next year’s products. If they’re the ones you plan to use next year, you could save money and reduce your cost of production by taking advantage of lower prices in the fall. It’s not uncommon for the price of common chemistries used in grain production to increase each year. Some have predicted that input prices could go up 3-6 percent on many crop chemical inputs. Buying ag chemicals in the fall can be a smart move where price is concerned. 

  2. Greater certainty for the spring. If certain chemistries worked for you, chances are that other farmers may have had the same success, and the demand for those products may rise. Supply can become tight for popular products, but you can purchase now to avoid this possibility. Once you have the products in hand, you will not be panicking or searching for the products, if and when they become scarce. It is a good feeling to know the inputs you need are going to be there whenever you want to apply them. Buying products that you are certain that you will use this fall or the next crop year can help you to eliminate any potential for waste, and addresses your planned chemical needs upfront.

There is often little transparency into industry practices around chemical pricing.

With historically low commodity prices, even small differences in chemical prices can make or break a season. Based on our research and the experience of many FBN members, one of the biggest barriers to controlling costs is the variability and lack of transparency around ag chemical prices.

You can see extreme price differences on the same products, even when brands and geographies are the same, and even for staple products:

  • Price differences exist across the ag chemical industry, from widely used products like Roundup PowerMAX® to more specialty products.
  • Price differences occur even within states for identical products. Farmers within 15 miles from one another can pay widely varying prices.
  • Even as prices decrease for many chemicals, price variation continues to exist.

You should have control over your chemical purchasing and greater transparency to make better decisions about where to find fair prices. Though the USDA does regular surveys on the amount that farmers spend on chemicals on average, very little is known about the real prices individual farmers pay.

We believe that farmers should have access to fair and competitive input markets, and that increasing price transparency is a vital step towards that goal.