Two weeks after spraying glyphosate on his chem-fallow, James Madge still had a field thick with healthy wild oats. That’s something no farmer wants to see. With half of the weeds still green, his mind immediately went to weed resistance.
He worried about the implications this might have on the future use of glyphosate, a critical tool in his weed management toolbox. As it turns out, the problem was not glyphosate itself, but with the formulation used.
“We spoke to our consultants at Premium Ag and their first question was, ‘Did you use a generic?'” says Madge, who farms near Hanna, AB. “They told us to re-apply with a Roundup product — in this case we used WeatherMax. Sure enough, two weeks later the wild oats were nuked, and we had no resistance issues. After learning a bit more we would never use a generic glyphosate product.”
WHAT’S IN THE JUG
All glyphosate products are non-selective herbicides, but not all are created equal. How can that be? Well, there are three main factors that go into the quality of a glyphosate product: the active ingredient, the acid equivalency (or potency) and the built-in surfactant.
While many generic brands claim to have the same active ingredient, their reduced acid equivalency means they need to be applied at a higher rate per acre in order to achieve levels of control similar to their premium brand counterparts. Most farmers already know that a generic with a 360 g concentration is commonly applied at a rate of 1 L/ac. while a premium product, which has a 540 g concentration, is applied at 0.67 L/ac.
Not only does this close the gap on price between generic and premium brands, using the generic product may lead to application inefficiencies since the higher rate takes up more room in the tank, with no guarantees on efficacy.
Also, there is often no performance consistency with generic glyphosate. It may work one time, but when you don’t quite get the result you expected, it usually comes down to the quality of the glyphosate product.
This is where surfactants play a critical role. Most premium glyphosate products come with a built-in surfactant designed specifically for the finished product, and this specificity has a big impact on performance. For instance, Roundup branded products have a surfactant system that’s designed to work in tougher, cooler and drier conditions, as well as facilitate fast uptake.
Despite having used generics for more than a decade, Madge says that in the end, when he crunched the numbers, the cost difference wasn’t worth the risk of another weed control failure. “Why would you think about saving a few pennies when you might have to re-apply another pass across your entire field,” he says. “It’s not worth it when a good-quality application would have gotten everything the first time.”
RETAILERS AND AGRONOMISTS CAN HELP
Matt Gosling, Madge’s consultant at Premium Ag, says they rarely recommend generic glyphosate of any kind. The company wants to ensure that growers are getting the most out of their investment in a crop protection product while making sure it stands behind the products it recommends. With respect glyphosate, Gosling says that generic products often don’t have the consistency in manufacturing standards and many of the small manufacturers don’t have the capacity to provide guarantees.
“Often a customer will call us and say, ‘I just got this great price on glyphosate,'” says Gosling. He then asks the customer what the active ingredient concentration is and whether the product is serviced and guaranteed. The answer usually points to an inferior product. “We are in the business of advising, managing risk and maximizing profit. It’s still up to the farmer to manage the farm with our council.”
While wild oat resistance was not an issue in this instance, Gosling had previously worked with Madge to help him address issues around resistant kochia. Madge has concerns now that the many years he applied a poor-quality glyphosate on chemfallow, one that didn’t knock down all the weeds, may have given rise to this problem.
“Despite the resistant kochia, this was the first year James had seeded Roundup Ready corn and we knew that resistant wild oats were unlikely,” says Gosling. “As soon as he said he had used a generic, we said to wait a few days and try WeatherMax, which cleaned everything up. Glyphosate is not just an ingredient, it is a formulation that needs consistency to work well.”
Working together with Premium Ag, Madge has since changed up the program on his farm, replacing chem-fallow with continuous cropping and cover crops. But he has also taken generic glyphosate off of his purchase list. In the three years since he has been using Roundup products, he no longer has to deal with wild oats or concerns about multiple glyphosate applications.
Gosling also suggests that for the investment farmers put into their glyphosate, it pays to make sure they have backup from the product manufacturer. “We suggest supporting companies that are putting the time, the research and development into keeping these products working, and making sure that every tote has the same product every time,” he says.
“Get in on early programming, make sure you have a product guarantee so that your investment is protected and keep your risk low. You only have a couple of weeks to get your weed control right, and a quality crop protection product will help make sure that happens.”