Like most people these days, we tend to take for granted the choice and selection of professional pesticide products on the market for the turfcare industry. We rarely care, or understand, the complexities of bringing these products to the market place; however, we are the first to complain about their cost.
In essence, what are you paying for? Well, firstly, we need to understand what to expect from a given product; what are the active ingredients, its mode of action, application rates and window of use? These, together with many other factors, will determine the choice of product along with how the chemical can be applied to its target.
The equipment you are using may not be ideal for a given product; it is imperative to check that the sprayer is operating at the recommended spraying rates and operating pressure. It is also important to calibrate the performance of the equipment being used.
You could find yourself applying too much or too little product to your turf or pest, which will, inevitably, reduce the chances of getting the right end result.
Some products may retail at a similar price or offer what looks like the same performance. It is not until you look closely at the product details which reveal that, for example, one provides 2.5gm of product added to 5 litres of water and covering the same area 100 square metres, whilst the other uses 15gm of product in 5 litres of water to cover the same area.
Just because a given product was cheaper, and it worked for Sid on his golf course or sports pitch, doesn't mean it will work as well for you! You need to assess each and every problem on its own merit and use the best product available, irrespective of cost.
Remember, manufacturers have invested millions of pounds to find you a solution; heed their advice and use the most effective product that suits your circumstances.
When you look behind the scenes, and see the extraordinary amount of time taken to bring many of these products to market, then you can understand why they cost so much.
The size, scale and colossal investment the chemical companies make into research and development of new products is nothing short of mind blowing. It often takes up to eight years and one to two hundred million pounds to get a single new product through the system.
Paul Clifton, Head of Environmental Science, at Bayer CropScience UK & Ireland and James Hadlow, Technical and Marketing Manager for Environmental Science, at Bayer CropScience, invited Managing Director, Dave Saltman, and myself to see the investment Bayer make in terms of their Research and Development (R&D) programmes.
Environmental Science is the specialist division within Bayer CropScience which is committed to developing high-quality control products for the Turf and Amenity Industry. Both are part of the global Bayer AG, based in Leverkusen, Germany, with almost 109,000 employees worldwide and a yearly turnover of more than 33 billion Euros across its three main business areas - Healthcare, Material Science and CropScience.
Bayer CropScience is one of the world's leading crop science companies. Its main headquarters are located in Monheim, Germany and its UK headquarters are on the outskirts of Cambridge. Bayer CropScience has 18,300 employees working worldwide and commits 10% of its annual turnover to research and development.
Bayer Environmental Science has a wealth of expertise and experience focused on the world's turf and amenity markets whilst, at the same time, remaining dedicated to developing and marketing solutions for the protection of turf and sports surfaces in the UK and Ireland, ranging from products such as the well known Chipco® Green and Dedicate®, protecting turf from important diseases, to Merit® Turf, the revolutionary chafer grub and leatherjacket control.
The company was also very proud to demonstrate its global commitment to reducing its CO2 emissions, by initiatives such as the way it develops products, and uses its resources with the aim of 'Protecting Tomorrow Today through Innovation'. For example, Bayer Environmental Science's new packaging saves 20% on greenhouse gas emissions, 26% on energy and 12% on water consumption through its entire life-cycle (and also each employee is targeted to control their CO2 emissions on an annual basis).
In 1924, Bayer established its first Crop Protection research department. This was superseded in 1979 when construction began on the new Agricultural Centre in Monheim, today Bayer CropScience's headquarters. The history of Bayer Environmental Science in the UK and Ireland goes back to companies such as May and Baker, through to Rhone Poulenc and Aventis CropScience, whom Bayer purchased in 2002.
There has been continual development over the sixty hectare site, culminating in an array of technical and administrative buildings where 1,800 chemists, biologists, engineers and laboratory technicians are employed.
The visit was over two days, and we were accommodated at the Kasino Hotel, Leverkusen, Bayer's own Hotel. With so much to see, and with a full itinerary, we knew it would be hectic, and it certainly was.
On arrival at the CropScience centre we went through a stringent security check and were met by Dirk Boenicke who welcomed us to Bayer. This was followed by a small presentation by James Hadlow on how a pesticide comes to market, the research that goes into formulating a new product and the safeguards in place to ensure it meets all safety requirements and legislation.
The process begins by agreeing the aims and objectives of a specific product. This is usually after turf managers, greenkeepers and other industry managers have identified what sort of products they require.
We were then taken to see one of Bayer's newest facilities, its unique substance library, which holds in excess of eight million substances that have been produced since the company started.
This building is fully automated. Here, robots source and select any given substance and put it together with a number of others to make up a new formulation.
Research efficiency is vastly increased by the use of modern computer simulation (modelling tools) and sophisticated analysis to determine the structure and purity of potential new chemical compounds. This is only made possible through the availability of advanced networked information technology to process the huge amounts of data generated.
Following synthesis we learned that chemical compounds are sent to other laboratories where their spectrum of action is thoroughly investigated for fitness of purpose.
Strict testing criteria mean that, after eight to ten years, only one in about 100,000 compounds synthesised finally develops into a commercial turf or amenity product.
At the Metabolism and Environment Fate Institute, Dr Eduard Hellpointner showed us the research being conducted into monitoring the behaviour of compounds in soil, water and air, to ensure that turf and amenity products are as safe and environmentally compatible as possible.
A crop, or turf, is grown in a special cubic metre container of undisturbed soil that provides the opportunity to measure the amount of compounds and residues left in the soil after treatment, using a lysimeter which measures the degree of leaching in soils.
A turf and amenity product can only be granted marketing authorisation if it has passed all the tests to show it will not pose an unacceptable risk to humans or the environment when used as directed. This includes the ability for an active ingredient to break down in the soil, rather than leach into natural water courses and ground water.
In the afternoon, we were shown the formulation laboratories, where in situ turf is targeted with products to determine whether active substances negatively affect micro-organisms or other beneficial flora or fauna.
For any new active ingredient coming to market, there may be a number of different applications for its use. We were shown an array of products using the same active ingredient, but produced in different formulations (powders, liquids, gels etc.) that are processed differently for specific target pests and diseases.
A good formulation consists of numerous ingredients contained in the pesticide, in addition to the active substance itself. Dispersants, for example, mean the sprayer operative has to do very little stirring when diluting the product, whilst emulsifiers ensure an even distribution in water. Other substances make the mixture last longer and prevent it from becoming lumpy and blocking nozzles and pipes.
There are also adjuvants that help the active ingredient reach the target pest, disease or weed by controlling droplet size, thereby helping it to adhere to the surface of the target or leaf.
Bayer use their extensive expertise to overcome this problem, and enable the active ingredient to stick to, and penetrate, the cuticle, making the product more efficient and rainfast within one hour, such as with the turf fungicide Dedicate®.
There are several testing areas where new formulations are tested and monitored. Most are in large greenhouses where the climatic conditions can be altered to test the formulations under different conditions.
Others include a series of outdoor turf plots that are managed as fine amenity turf, which are regularly mown to facilitate testing of new selective turf products.
Over the years the company have produced a multitude of products to help manage specific turf grass problems globally. However, in the amenity sector of our industry in the UK, recent European and UK Government legislations has seen a reduction in the products now available.
Bayer has committed huge investment to ensure that there are plenty of new products being developed for the UK market that will not only be fit for purpose but meet new legislation. They intend to launch two such products at BTME in January.
Over the coming issues, I will be writing more in depth articles about the research and development programmes, as well as the registration processes and costs.
It soon became apparent, when walking around the R&D centre at the Monheim site, the true scale of investment, time and resources Bayer have committed to producing these products. Now that I've seen, first hand, the work and processes involved in development, it is easy to justify the price to the end user.
After a long day we made our way back to the hotel for refreshments and further talks about our industry. The following day we were taken to the BayKomm (Bayer Museum) to see, in detail, the history of the company, and how their products, including phamaceuticals, have helped keep people healthy, wealthy and wise.
Both Dave and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Paul and James for making this trip possible. The information and welcome we received from Bayer's employees was first class. The tremendous commitment this company has towards our industry is to be admired.