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What Lies Beneath: How Organic Matter is Influencing Crop Protection Strategies

Originally published JANUARY 17, 2022
croplife magazine


We’re talking a lot more about soil these days. We all know it’s arguably one of the most valuable assets a grower has, and it’s one that continues to work harder and harder for the growers who steward it.

In 2021, the buzzwords “carbon credits” and “carbon sequestration” took off across the agriculture industry, and soil has been the predominant focus of those conversations. As the spotlight continues to shine on the opportunities posed by improved soil health and management, inputs like crop protection products will see themselves garner attention as the soil discussion broadens.

The Purposeful Effect of Organic Matter

It’s important that when we talk about soil in terms of crop protection, we approach it from the perspective of organic matter. Whether its soil residual herbicides, insecticides or fungicides applied through a drip tape, if it touches the soil and isn’t going to remain 100% on the crop foliage, we need to have a firm grasp on the relationship between the organic matter in the soil and the chemistry we apply.

I think of organic matter and its effect on crop protection products like this: It can either allow for free flow of traffic, i.e., active ingredient to the plant, pest, pathogen or weed, or serve as a stoplight that seldom turns green. The organic matter type, level or quality can greatly influence this flow. These make soil a significant factor to consider in the decision-making process of what chemistry a grower chooses to use.

Organic matter can play another role as a residual maximizer. As emphasized by this Michigan State University Extension bulletin, in many cases, an optimal amount of organic matter allows for a greater chance that crop protection solutions will be held in the soil and will be available for their intended uses, rather than leached away. Most crop protection products are formulated to bind to organic matter. This is measured by binding affinity. As we evaluate our soil-applied options for 2022, accounting for organic matter can give growers a better picture of what residual control of weeds, insects and diseases will look like in the context of their own soil.

Leveraging Organic Matter for Other Uses

As we envision free flow of crop protection products in the soil to the target, there are some cases where growers can harness the nature of organic matter and its relationship with chemistry to solve other problems.

For example, grass seed is sensitive as a seed but as a crop requires thorough, early weed control to help bring a field to harvest with high seed purity. Organic matter in the form of a carbon slurry plays a unique role in protecting seedlings while enabling us to manage seed purity robbing weeds. This weed management strategy is called carbon seeding. This activated carbon slurry is applied in a narrow band over a row during planting, then followed by a broadcast application of herbicide to address weed management outside the narrow band. The carbon band inactivates soil-applied herbicides around the root zone of the planted grass seeds, protecting the germinating seeds within the carbon band. This method allows for use of herbicides that would otherwise injure or kill the crop species.

It boils down to the fact that soil health and organic matter play a crucial role in the implementation of an effective crop protection strategy that also adheres to integrated pest management. When soil health and crop protection are synced, inputs go a long way in ensuring growers are achieving the best results and greatest return on their crop protection investment.

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