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Chemical serendipity or part of the plan?

A fungicide that was originally developed for cereals and potatoes has also become an effective tool for managing disease in corn. Meanwhile, a treatment for aphids in tree fruits has been found to work well against other insects in vegetable crops.


Were these discoveries pleasant surprises or were they part of the plan all along?


It’s a bit of both, according to a couple of crop protection business insiders.


One example of this serendipity is BASF’s Headline fungicide.


Wayne Barton, manager, research and commercial development at BASF, was involved in testing the active ingredient in the product when he was a contract researcher with the company in the 1990s. The focus was on cereals, potatoes, and lentils/legumes in Western Canada. It was also being tested on turf.


 “Those were the main fungicide markets that directed our initial product development work in 1997,” recalls Barton.
While Headline was destined for the global marketplace as a cereal fungicide, he says BASF officials thought it was robust enough to capture opportunities in other markets.
Controlling diseases in corn  was one of those opportunities.


“It is part of the plan to develop a product for the main market, but also to look at collaborating on new needs,” says Barton of the development process. “I think when you do that, quite often you’re pleasantly surprised by what’s exciting the team working in other areas of research, such as corn in this case.”


Since its registration for corn in 2005, Headline has been used by growers to help the crop remain healthy until maturity.


The foliar fungicide is applied to minimize late-season stresses that are caused by diseases that accelerate the crop’s senescence.


It is also registered for use in soybeans and was registered for use in canola in 2010.


Barton says the Headline example also serves as a model for the way new chemistries are being developed for the marketplace.


While BASF may do the initial work, collaboration with other researchers is a key strategy in evaluating chemistry to solve problems in other crops.


“When you have a new chemistry, one shouldn’t assume that it is going to do the same things in the crop that the old chemistry did. So we more systematically look at either the crop or the pathogen, and look to collaborate with other researchers when we move beyond those traditional uses,” adds Barton.


Another source of pleasant surprise is Movento, an insecticide developed by Bayer CropScience.


David Kikkert, portfolio manager for horticulture, says the product was originally labeled to control aphids and white flies in many tree fruit and vegetable crops.


When it came into the market in 2008 as an aphid product, Kikkert notes that Movento was controlling other insects such as swede midge in brassica crops and thrips on onions.


“It is great news when you can successfully start testing and looking at different pest spectrums than what we had originally targeted,” he adds.


In Movento’s case, Kikkert says the product was registered in 2008 after it was jointly submitted for approval to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency in Canada.
Several minor uses were also identified before the commercial registration in the original markets.


 “A lot of times, it’s a phased approach. We’ll work on getting approval for a core label and then we start looking at other opportunities as well,” notes Kikkert. “Sometimes the research is internal and sometimes it’s external – where researchers often ask to screen this product against other pests.”


Some of these other minor use opportunities are now being realized. For example, Movento was registered in 2011 for the control of swede midge larvae in leafy brassica vegetables.


In addition to using the product on more insects in horticulture crops, researchers have also been testing Movento as a solution for managing pests in soybeans and other legumes. Of note, Kikkert says the product could provide a new mode of action for controlling aphids in soybeans.


However, he cautions that maximum residue limit (MRL) approvals are needed in certain global markets before this use can be commercialized for these crops.


Besides discovering new uses, Kikkert says, bringing newer chemistries to the market sooner is another benefit of the innovation process.


 He notes that recent joint registrations in Canada and the US are helping to expand the number of uses on crop labels.


“As we move forward, there may be fewer minor use requests for crops on the same type of target and hopefully (researchers) will start finding other uses,” says Kikkert.


And while Headline and Movento are just two examples of discoveries in the marketplace – both planned and unexpected –Kikkert says it’s difficult to predict if this exact trend will continue in the future.


“Future label expansions may be easier because I think a lot of the crops will already be registered, so adding a pest to the label is easier than adding a crop and a pest,” adds Kikkert. “Regardless, the industry will continue to provide innovative solutions to growers and look for new opportunities to use them.”