April 25, 2006

Pamphlet, Web site help farmers compare products

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Bryan G. Young was hot — as in "under the collar."

He was holding a color newspaper ad for an adjuvant (a product added to weed killer in a spray tank to make the herbicide more effective). The ad included an American flag, the boast that the product was "made from soybeans grown in America by American Farmers" and the promise that the product could do just about everything.

"You can call it ‘viper lipid,' but it's still ‘snake oil,'" said Young, a weed scientist in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Look at this! They claim it's a superb wetting agent but also that it's rainfast — you can't do both. They're two separate things. But these companies are out there making these claims, and they're selling, because growers are inundated with these products and don't have a lot of confidence in knowing which would be better."

Young aims to give growers that confidence with the latest issue of the Compendium of Herbicide Adjuvants, a pocket-sized pamphlet that lists a large number of adjuvants by category along with other information such as the active ingredient, the usage rate and the manufacturer.

His Web site, www.herbicide-adjuvants.com, contains not only that information but additional details — crop-based adjuvants, adjuvant labels, new products listed since the pamphlet was printed and such — all electronically indexed for easy searching.

The compendium is, Young said with some pride, used not only locally but nationally and even internationally.

"It's the only source for this kind of information," he said.

"Manufacturers will have their list (of their own products), but you won't see their competitors' products listed next to them. Ours is the only way to compare all these products."

The right adjuvant teamed with the proper weed killer can make the herbicide more effective in providing consistent weed control — a real boon to farmers with a lot of acres.

"If they have to attend to any acre more than they planned (by going back into the field to kill off weeds that escaped the first round of herbicide), it's an inconvenience and probably lost revenue," Young said.

This year's compendium describes a mind-boggling 523 products from 39 companies — quite a contrast from the first edition, published in 1992 by George A. Kapusta, SIUC's grand old man of all things weedy. That one listed 76 products from 22 companies.

Manufacturers are jumping on the adjuvant wagon in part because of a change in the way farmers attack weeds, Young said. Fifty years ago, they relied mostly on herbicides laid down right at the start of the growing season, before any weeds appeared, in part because these weed killers worked better than those applied after the weeds had come up.

Then came integrated pest management, which let farmers tailor their weed and bug control efforts to their particular fields and conditions and brought post-emergence herbicides to the forefront. With the development of Roundup-ready crops, which can withstand applications of weed killer, the transition to "post" herbicides was complete.

But most of these need help — "Some more than others," Young said — to do their best. Enter the adjuvant, a new — and unregulated — product.

"Because the adjuvant industry isn't regulated like the herbicides are, you can make a lot of claims in terms of performance, though there's not a lot of research that could support those claims," Young said.

While adjuvants are generally cheap, some can cost as much per acre as the herbicide they're supposed to assist, and cost doesn't guarantee they'll work. It pays to know what you're getting.

The compendium costs $3 — "Same low price since 1998," Young said with a grin — and he doesn't charge for shipping or handling. To order a copy, contact Young at 618/453-7679 or e-mail him at bgyoung@siu.edu.

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.