By Rebecca Auchter
When I started managing sports turf about 11 years ago, I had the misguided notion that it would be easier than golf course management, where I’d started my career. After all, it’s just longer grass, right? Obviously, I was wrong. It didn’t take long to realize the special skill set needed to maintain quality playing surfaces under the “herding” traffic patterns and abuse sports fields must endure.
Even though I had some catching up to do in my transition from golf to sports turf, I was confident in my agronomic skills, especially in using chemicals and developing a spray program. For those of you not familiar with the Mid-Atlantic climate where I grow grass, it is humid in the summer and we get nearly every turf disease in the compendium. We are far enough north that cool-season grasses are required, but summer temperatures strain the limits of those species. Irrigation is crucial to keep turf actively growing and, more importantly, recovering from constant use in our municipal park system. Certainly, we employ good management practices with regard to nutrition, soil management, species selection, and cultural practices, but a preventive fungicide program is generally required for highly managed fields in this region.
So many product choices
Developing a preventive spray program to manage turf disease isn’t difficult for me since I started honing those skills years ago on the golf course. But making it happen on a municipal budget instead of a country club budget is an entirely different challenge. In addition, the last decade has seen an explosion of post-patent products entering the turf and ornamental market. While our choice of active ingredients has remained stable with only a few new chemicals to consider annually, the quantity of formulations, brand names, and combination products have skyrocketed. As a busy grounds manager with a wide array of responsibilities spread over hundreds of acres, I don’t have the luxury of spending hours in my office researching every new product to determine if it may be a good fit for our program. At the same time, I am highly motivated to find the ideal products at the best price so my staff and I can evolve to meet the expectations of our customers. This article grew out my desire to develop some kind of systematic approach to selecting products for our program.
What’s driving the changes
I would like to note that I certainly haven’t been living under a rock, but keeping up with the mergers and acquisitions of agrichemical companies takes a commitment. In the late 90’s when I was climbing the steps through the golf industry, most our chemicals came from a few big companies who did the research and development and brought new active ingredients to market. A few names like Dow, DuPont, Bayer, BASF, and the newcomer in 2000, Syngenta, dominated the scene. Those companies continue to innovate and bring new active ingredients to the market, in addition to supplying their trusted brand names. But things have changed. At the writing of this article, Dow and DuPont have a merger pending, Bayer is awaiting regulatory approval to purchase Monsanto, and the Swiss firm Syngenta’s acquisition by ChemChina is all but complete. The Japanese chemical giant Sumitomo owns a significant portion of the Australian company Nufarm, who acquired Cleary’s only a few years ago. SipcamAdvan’s parent company is Oxon Group, headquartered in Milan, Italy. Makhteshim Agan, a huge Israeli chemical company responsible for the Quali—Pro brand, is renamed Adama and wholly owned by ChemChina. While these examples only scratch the surface, they do illustrate that it is a global industry with a global supply chain and partnerships that seem to change rapidly. Given the changing landscape, it is often tricky to determine the provenance of a product.
The proliferation of players on the agrichemical field has been driven, in part, by the number of active ingredients that are now post-patent. Azoxystrobin recently came off patent and two other strobilurins, pyraclostrobin and fluoxastrobin, will be available in the next couple years. Along with ai’s mancozeb, propiconazole, iprodione, chlorothalonil and many others that have long been available, budget conscious turf managers have post-patent fungicides from nearly every class available to combat turf diseases. As a refresher, American patents last for 17 years during which the chemical’s price and distribution agreements are controlled by the patent owner. Traditionally, the patent-protected period means higher prices for the consumer as the company recovers their investment for the research, development, and EPA registration of the active ingredient, which can easily exceed 10 years and $10 million. Post-patent, however, active ingredients can be formulated and sold under several or even dozens of different brand names at whatever price the formulator chooses. As the post-patent market developed in the last decade, low prices were the driving force of growth. We often referred to products as “generics.”
More recently, though, companies specializing in post-patent products have used sophisticated marketing to grow brand recognition and differentiate their portfolio from others by adding original formulations that are proprietary. Pairing good customer support and quality control along with the registration of new post-patent formulations has created a niche of cost effective and reliable products that have shed the uncertainty consumers perceived under the “generic” moniker. I zeroed in on the post-patent brands that offer a relatively full portfolio of products and are widely available throughout most of the country. ArmorTech, UPI’s Phoenix, PrimeraOne, Quali-Pro, Select Source, Nufarm and Cleary’s, FMC, Prokoz, and SipcamAdvan are the brands with prominence in the turf and ornamental segment at this time. I expect this to be a changing and growing list as mergers and acquisitions spur the marketing efforts of parent companies and more active ingredients reach a post-patent status.
A method for comparison
Looping back, my motivation for digging into this topic was a way to compare the multitude of products with the same active ingredient. The most valuable tool, by far, is the EPA’s Pesticide Product Label System (PPLS.) The full link is at the end of this article. PPLS is a user-friendly database where you can enter the name, company, registration number, or active ingredient and get a list of every registered product that matches the query. In a matter of a few minutes and a handful of searches, I was able to find objective information unavailable from any other source. For example, Bayer’s Signature is the original patent-protected formulation offered in the turf and ornamental market with the active ingredient aluminum tris. It is a true systemic fungicide that presents no resistance issues and is now available in post-patent formulations that are lower in price. One of my trusted vendors offers that active ingredient under United Turf Alliance’s ArmorTech brand and the product is called Alt 70 WDG. Another vendor carries UPI’s Phoenix brand and the product is called Viceroy 70DF. When I look up those fungicides by their EPA registration numbers, they are the same product, formulated by Tessenderlo Kerley. Selection, then, is simply a matter of comparing price because I can determine with certainty that the two products are identical. As another example, “Echo 720” is the chlorothalonil formulation offered by SipcamAdvan. If I search the EPA registration number in the PPLS database, I can find that PrimeraOne Chlorothalonil 720 is the exact same thing. NuFarm’s thiophanate-methyl and iprodione combination has three alternate names listed under the EPA registration number 228-630 that can be considered as equals. It is part of my due diligence when I am considering any pesticide to do a quick search of the EPA registration number through the PPLS database before I decide to purchase.
EPA registration numbers are assigned under a rigorous set of standards and very specific rules. The first grouping of numbers identifies the company holding the registration. Syngenta registrations all start with 100, NuFarm is 228, BASF is 7969, Bayer is 432 and so on for each company. The second set of numbers after the hyphen identifies the specific product. Dow Agrosciences’ Eagle 40WP fungicide is 62719-417 while Fore 80WP Rainshield is 62719-388. Occasionally, a third set of numbers appears which identify the distributor. Prokoz is a value-based brand available through a cooperative group of owner/distributors. Their myclobutanil fungicide, Hoist, has the EPA registration number 62719-417-72112. With the nomenclature just described, it is easy to identify that the first two sets of numbers are identical to the Dow AgroSciences’ product Eagle 40WP with only the addition of the Prokoz distributor code. The addition of a distributor number and name only signifies a business arrangement and the label must be exactly the same as the original product’s master label, with the exception of formatting and artwork that do not affect the product.
With an understanding of how EPA registration numbers identify a product’s provenance and the handy PPLS tool to cross reference and compare chemicals, I have confidence that I can quickly determine if something is truly unique or just rebranded. It is the trend of agrichemical companies to use post-patent active ingredients and create proprietary, new formulations. These new formulations may have additives to improve mixing, tank compatibility, plant uptake, stability during storage, or a number of other factors. They must be submitted to the EPA and go through all the stringent tests and requirements at significant expense to the formulator to validate the claims and receive a unique EPA registration number. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are only a few new active ingredients coming to market annually, but the number of new formulations and combinations are plentiful.
To wrap things up, it is a very different marketplace of products than I first encountered when I joined the green industry many years ago. Having fewer choices may have been simpler, but the variety of products and the spectrum of pricing in today’s market put a sophisticated turf management program within the reach of all managers who want one. It is still imperative to master the basics of pesticide classes, active ingredients, and modes of action. Without a framework of fundamentals, it is nearly impossible to evaluate with any objectivity. But it is equally important to develop a method for vetting new offerings as economics, pathogens, the regulatory environment, and the expectations of our customers will evolve with or without us! Please check out the EPA’s Pesticide Product Label System (PPLS) at https://iaspub.epa.gov/apex/pesticides/f?p=PPLS:1 for information on the products you are considering.
Rebecca Auchter is manager, grounds, for the Public Works Department of Cranberry Township, PA and a member of the Sports Turf Managers Association.