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The price of glyphosate

IF YOU'RE wondering whether the cost of glyphosate will go up or down next season, the answer is: probably neither one. For the most part, manufacturers report that prices will remain “relatively stable,” with emphasis on “relatively.”

“There is tremendous [cost] pressure on us,” explains Dan Hinderliter, Syngenta brand manager for Touchdown herbicide. “Everyone's feeling the pinch from higher energy costs.”

That includes Monsanto and generic glyphosate suppliers as well. China, a significant U.S. glyphosate provider since Roundup went off patent, has experienced energy shortages, specifically electricity, in the past year, which has hindered its processing capabilities and increased its production costs. In addition, an industrywide shortage of phosphorus, a major component in glyphosate, has limited further price cutting by companies both here and abroad. Monsanto also indicates that hazardous weather patterns last fall have not affected retail prices negatively, at least not yet.

“I think we're seeing glyphosate prices pretty close to the bottom,” says Sano Shimoda, president of BioScience Securities, a strategic corporate advisory and investment banking firm that focuses on agricultural biotechnology.

Shimoda says one price break you can anticipate for 2006 is for Monsanto's premium glyphosate product, Roundup WeatherMax. He anticipates it will retail for roughly $39.00/gal., or even slightly lower (about $6.00 to $6.50/acre). That price is down from last year's $54.00/gal. price, reflecting an effort by Monsanto to improve its competitive position in the marketplace. Roundup Original Max, the company workhorse, will retail for approximately $29.00/gal. (about $4.75 to $5.25/acre). As always, prices are subject to change, depending upon your retailer.

As for Syngenta's Touchdown Total and Touchdown HiTech, look for costs to be comparable with those for Monsanto products, Hinderliter says. “We won't be priced out of the marketplace,” he states.

Shimoda says growers who plan to use a generic glyphosate should anticipate an investment of $3.00 to $4.00/acre this coming season.

A profitable year

Both Monsanto and Syngenta reported good volume sales in 2005 of the Roundup and Touchdown brands, respectively, with Monsanto recording one of its best Roundup volume sales years in its history, according to Sarah Vacek, marketing manager.

Both companies benefited last season from ongoing product support programs, which provided growers with weed-control guarantees, both formal and informal.

That is why Brad and David Glenn, Stanford, IL, opted to use Roundup Original Max at 22 oz./acre in their no-till beans, along with 2,4-D as a burndown.

Brad says that although they evaluated generic glyphosate-based products, “we didn't see much of a price differential with the generics, and a lot of them are cash-and-carry products only. We've not gone to generics because of the product support.”

The Glenn brothers, who farm 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans and provide custom spraying and other agronomic services to area farmers, paid roughly $23.00/gal. for the herbicide.

Formulation changes

This past year, Syngenta altered its glyphosate formulation with a “higher load” potassium salt. It made the change to improve the ability of glyphosate to penetrate and control weeds and to offset potential problems from undesirable minerals in hard water. Prior to last season, the Touchdown IQ formulations contained diammonium salt, whereas Roundup and most generic glyphosate formulations contained isopropylamine salt.

“The idea with the potassium salt base is to provide growers with a higher load product that enables them to cover more ground with less fuel costs and time invested,” Hinderliter says.

For 2006, neither Monsanto nor Syngenta will make any formulation changes in their brands. Instead, both companies will ramp up their value-added program offerings.

Monsanto looks to strengthen its position in the marketplace by offering growers the Roundup Tough Weed Warranty, which covers all weeds noted on the Roundup label. Vacek notes that the warranty is Monsanto's answer for growers who have communicated a need for improved control of those weeds known for breaking through glyphosate control measures. If control breaks for any Roundup-labeled weeds, following a labeled Roundup application, the company will make any necessary follow-up applications to regain control.

Resistance concerns

Although that's good news to service- and price-conscious growers, concerns about product stewardship and glyphosate resistance continue. For example, earlier this year, Mark Loux and Jeff Stachler, Ohio State University Extension weed scientists, characterized several lambsquarters biotypes in Ohio as glyphosate resistant. Loux and Stachler report that, in general, Ohio producers have difficulty controlling lambsquarters and velvetleaf with single post-glyphosate applications, particularly when these weeds grow beyond 6 in. tall.

Weed scientists and other professionals report that, along with common lambsquarters, five additional weed species now exhibit some level of resistance to glyphosate: marestail (horseweed), common ragweed, Italian ryegrass, rigid ryegrass, and, most recently, Palmer pigweed.

Brad and David Glenn have seen no signs of weed resistance on their central Illinois farm, and therefore they plan to stick with their one-pass Roundup application strategy. “Waterhemp is still a significant weed in our area, and our weed pressure hasn't changed like in some other parts of the country,” Brad says.

This past September Syngenta appointed a senior manager to address the issue of herbicide resistance, including glyphosate resistance, on a full-time basis. The resistance issue also plays well with Syngenta's product line. The company's product line is based on preemergence herbicides and involves various active ingredients, enabling Syngenta to position them in tandem with Touchdown as an effective way to control weeds and minimize resistance concerns.

Monsanto Public Affairs Manager Mica DeLong says the company “recognizes resistance is an issue and has a stewardship team and plans in place to address new cases and determine the most practical and economical recommendations.”

Although Monsanto is leading in the biotech arena, Syngenta is working diligently on its biotech program as well. “In the next three years, plus or minus, look for Syngenta to bring their own proprietary glyphosate-tolerant chemistry to bear in cotton, corn, soybeans and other crops,” Shimoda says. In addition, Syngenta has rolled out its new AgriEdge marketing program, which is a shift in its strategy from defense to offense in positioning its premier selective corn herbicides in a Roundup Ready corn program.

Besides Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer is working on developing its own proprietary glyphosate-tolerant technology, which could be commercialized within five years.

In the meantime, look for Monsanto to strongly promote the adoption of its Roundup Ready corn over the next two to three years.

Monsanto's promotion of the use of stacked traits, of which Roundup Ready is a key strategic base component, will drive Roundup/glyphosate use. Shimoda says that although stacked biotech seed traits make such hybrids very profitable for the company, they are also attractive for farmers because they provide more cost-effective insect and weed control and demonstrate improved yields, despite their hefty biotech fees.

That was true for the Glenn brothers whose 2005 corn yields on their farm varied greatly due to drought conditions. At the start of harvest in September, central Illinois moisture levels were down by about 11 in. Even so, Brad reports that yields of Roundup Ready corn were reaching 190 bu./acre while traditional corn hybrids were topping out at 140 bu.

Shimoda says Monsanto's strategic drive with Roundup Ready corn, as the base for its stacked trait strategy, is only in its early stages.

“Monsanto has planned and is executing a strategy that will create a market lead for the next two to three years,” he notes. “Monsanto is driving for the goal line, in terms of market adoption of its traits and market share for its corn hybrids, and wants to make as many touchdowns as possible in the short term. Then look for them to defend their position.”

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