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There’s more to a fungicide program than the fungicides

The best fungicide programs for peanut, corn, cotton or soybeans depend on several variables, including the grower’s risk tolerance for diseases.

Bob Kemerait, Plant Pathologist

June 23, 2023

4 Min Read
Brad Haire

At a Glance

  • Talking about fungicides and nematicides in articles or at grower meetings is one of the most challenging things I do.

Getting the best disease control on your peanut, corn, cotton and soybean crops requires everything you do protects yield and profit.  As fungicides are most effective when applied BEFORE infection occurs, best control provides a level of insurance against what is likely to occur. 

I’ve had a few tell me, “I watched my neighbor spending his money applying a fungicide to his crop and I didn’t. But I made as good a yield as he did.” I want to tell the grower I didn’t have an accident on the way home from work last night, but I am sure glad I had insurance in case I had. 

The best chance for success, as measured by less disease and more profit, in a management program requires:

  1. An understanding of the specific diseases your crop is facing.

  2. You are timely in application. All fungicides work better when applied ahead of or very soon after infection occurs.

  3. Care in application (coverage, rate, timing around irrigation and rainfall).

  4. Appropriate choice of product. The list of appropriate fungicides is much longer for growers who adhere to points 1, 2, and 3, than it is for growers who do not.  Often times the best fungicide for growers who do not is both more expensive and less effective now than it would have been with a timely application.

The text message read, “Bob, what’s the best fungicide to spray on my corn?” Given that southern rust has been found, that many fields of peanuts are more than 30 days old, and that it won’t be long until cotton is blooming, Extension agents and consultants are getting a lot of similar questions. 

Related:Farmer plants 50th consecutive corn test plot with same company

By best growers likely mean, “Based on university research, which fungicide has been shown to have the greatest promise to reduce disease and increase yields?”  THAT question may have an answer, but it may not be the best answer. My recommendation to an agent or consultant for top fungicide choices is based not only on the disease or diseases of concern, but also of their current situation.

Is disease already present in the field? If so, then fungicides with stronger curative activity (and likely increased cost) are justified. Is the application being made less because disease has been found and more because of prevention or because the grower is “already making a trip across the field”?  If “yes” to any of these, then more fungicides are appropriate and “cost” is increasingly a consideration.  

Does the grower have a high tolerance or low tolerance to risk?  If one’s tolerance to risk is low, then investing in a higher rate of a more expensive fungicide still may not make much sense from the current disease situation, but it may make sense to the grower.

Related:Common weed problems ranked by state specialists

Talking about fungicides and nematicides in articles like this one and at grower meetings is one of the most challenging things I do. A colleague from a university in the Midwest who told me once, “Bob, if I made recommendations like you do, I would lose my job. We do not make recommendations.”  I told her that where I work, I would not have a job for long if I was not willing to synthesize results from our research into recommendations growers can use.

My problem is occasionally I forget to mention a product that I should have, or I do not mention a product because it isn’t appropriately effective. Sure, the product is clearly described in our production guides and pest control handbooks, but at some meeting or in some article I didn’t mention it. Growers may not have even noticed, but I assure you companies always do. What follows is predictable. 

It begins with an unexpected visit or phone call. A smile and friendly voice thanking me for all I do for the growers, and then the smile fades and the voice becomes strained. “Bob, we at Company XYZ appreciate all you do; however we couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t mention our product when you were talking about peanuts or cotton or corn, or soybeans. Why was that??” 

It’s at times like this that I need a “Bill Brodrick.” Some of you who watched NASCAR in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s will remember him. Bill was the bearded “hat guy” on Victory Lane who ran interference for the race winner, making sure that the right ball cap was displayed at the right time. As an Extension specialist, I will never make recommendation based upon “sponsors,” but I absolutely want to make sure each company and each product is fairly represented. I wonder if I could get Bill out of retirement to talk to some of my company rep friends when they come knocking on my door?

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About the Author(s)

Bob Kemerait

Plant Pathologist, University of Georgia

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