With spending pressures across all business sectors, turfcare professionals are looking carefully at pesticide expenditure, and there's a clear temptation to opt for low cost generics containing the same active ingredient as a branded treatment.
Exploring the differences, Bayer's Technical Manager, Dorin Pop, advises that the added value of a branded formulation delivers so much more
Dorin Pop explains how bringing a new product, based on new chemistry to market is a mammoth task, with the process between discovery and ultimate sale having the potential to span a decade or more.
"The scale of what's involved prior to launching a new fungicide into the professional turf market must not be underestimated. It's a long and intensive journey, with the discovery of a new active ingredient being merely the start of the process of getting a product ready for sale."
"But, as a multi-national company, we have the level of resource that this process demands. The size of the team who are dedicated to the development of new formulation technology for example, runs to over one hundred scientists and lab technicians. This includes a group of people who concentrate on testing and improving the bioavailability or absorption of the products by combining the active with co-products, adjuvants and other substances that contribute to the overall result from the final product."
Dorin makes a comparison for the formulation of a new crop protection product with the development of a new medicine in the pharmaceutical sector, where initial laboratory experiments, conducted by teams of chemists and other experts in this specialist area, are followed by extensive trials work and regulatory procedures. This is paramount to ensuring that, when the product is eventually employed at end user level, it is not only highly effective, but is available in an accessible and usable form that is safe and environmentally acceptable.
"And, in the same way as pharmaceuticals, there is a very strict registration process, with a significant quantity of data being necessary to scientifically prove that a product is not only completely new and different, but that it is fit for its intended purpose and meets the wealth of environmental and safety criteria. This entails a great deal of experience and patience over a significant period of time. Refining and re-testing is conducted with meticulous attention to detail, which takes place at the laboratory and right through to field scale conditions."
The efficacy of a treatment relies heavily on the correct formulation technology. An effective product will be optimally developed for the target plant (the grass sward, in the case of turf), and will focus specifically on the growing conditions and the mode of action, which is how the treatment acts (such as by contact or translocated activity). There are, however, many other variables to consider, for example, whether the plant has hairy leaf surfaces, waxy cuticles or whether its typical environment and intended use is within a temperate or more humid climate.
An example of finely developed formulation technology can be found in the way certain formulated products evenly distribute active ingredients over the area of each leaf in order to control damaging fungal diseases. In order for a fungicide to deliver the active ingredient to where it is required, each droplet needs to be transported via hydrophobic wax crystals that cover the leaf's surface. This ensures the liquid makes contact, where droplets would otherwise simply bounce off.
To ensure that the product stays on the leaf is then a further challenge. Scientists add other substances to cushion the impact or reduce the surface tension. This ensures that the spray mist of droplets adheres firmly to the leaves and that, by creating large wet areas, the active substance can penetrate quickly.
"Without the right formulation, even the best active ingredient is useless," notes Dorin.
More than just an active
A formulated active ingredient alone won't give the optimal biological performance. During the development of a formulation, several other factors have to be considered too. Testing under different climatic conditions needs to be carried out to ensure the product remains stable, even if stored for several years.
Further testing needs to be undertaken to guarantee that the spray liquid can be prepared easily and that, even in mixtures, this spray solution remains stable for long periods of time. Obviously, the blocking of filters in the spray equipment has to be prevented with the highest priority, so the solution needs to be formulated to ensure a smooth delivery through the nozzles.
With this in mind, Bayer scientists have evaluated a large number of adjuvants which affect droplet size and are vital in ensuring the pesticide effectively covers each leaf. There are many substances that are available to put into formulations, and many more being discovered. It is, therefore, a highly skilled job to select the right mixture, at the right concentration, and in changing combinations from the thousands of potential substances. Special additives may also enhance leaf penetration by softening the cuticle or, where required, by ensuring that the active substance forms insoluble crystals.
"This all goes a long way to delivering the quality branded products associated with our company, and shows the number of variables involved in this complex process, where a reliable level of consistency is necessary to ensure every product delivers in exactly the way it should."
Within the company's team of formulation experts, there are about ten scientists who are dedicated to testing how stable the spray solution is. "All of our products undergo this practical testing, so we know that, when a product goes to market, it will spray well," says Dorin.
He adds that once a formulation is registered, it cannot be changed. "For this reason, we ensure the formulation is perfect from an early stage, and that is a standard for all of our products. This is something that most generic companies can't offer."
It is not uncommon for formulation companies to include the same active ingredient in different formulations. The presence alone of an active ingredient does not ensure the efficacy of the pesticide for any one situation. An agricultural pesticide designed for wheat will not bring success when applied to turf. Specificity is key when it comes to formulation technology. For example, a pesticide formulated to adhere easily to hairy tomato leaves, or even smooth apple leaves, will simply be repelled by turf because of the large number of small wax crystals on the leaf.
Bayer fungicides are available for water-repellent turf due to the formulation which reduces surface tension, therefore an even coverage can be achieved which will ensure optimum efficacy against disease.
Further to this, it is commonly known that fungi reproduce very frequently and very quickly. "If a turfcare professional was to use just one active ingredient for a season, then a significant risk of resistance build up would occur," notes Dorin. "To counteract this, we often have two active ingredients with different working mechanisms in one formulation. We also develop spray programmes and advise on which products should be applied at certain times; this all helps to prevent resistance build up."
A worthwhile investment
Advanced formulation is what really sets the R&D companies apart from those who produce off-patent products but, for that advanced depth of knowledge and research, turfcare professionals have to expect to pay a bit more. This is sometimes off-putting and adds to the temptation of generics, but Dorin insists that the advanced development of the product will result in a range of added benefits, including greater coverage on the green and added rainfastness. "Products like Chipco® Green and Dedicate® are rainfast after just one hour, meaning that, in the largely wet UK climate, the products will adhere to the turf where other generic products may wash away."
He also explains that turfcare professionals who choose formulated products over generics are also buying into an after service that off-patent companies can't offer.
"We support our products with the very best customer service. Due to the level of research and development that goes into our products, we know everything there is to know about them and, therefore, can offer the best possible technical support." Dorin notes
As part of their customer support service, the company recently developed a mobile app which helps turfcare professionals identify a wide range of turf diseases and advises them on the best course of treatment. To overcome the problem, cultural practices are recommended as well as suitable fungicides.
Bayer's Turf & Amenity Product Manager, Claire Matthewman explains that the app is not only an excellent disease tool for product selection, but is also a useful way of identifying key diseases. "A turfcare professional can even take a photograph of a disease and send it to us via the app for identification. A turf expert will be in touch within forty-eight hours to discuss the best course of action," says Claire.
"It's an example of the advanced level of service on offer, and shows the added value delivered in return for a relatively small difference in cost. Customers consider it to be an added insurance policy. In the unlikely event that anything goes wrong, or if technical assistance is required, the expertise that has gone into developing the products means that we have the knowledge to answer any query and solve almost every problem," concludes Claire.