On October 16, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on the use of neonicotinoid productsin soybean seed treatments in the United States.  In preparing the report the authors reviewed several published efficacy studies and concluded that, “These seed treatments provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production.”

Michael McCarville, SeedGrowth technical service representative, Bayer CropScience, Johnston, Iowa, reviewed the report and cautions growers that it contains “misguided” recommendations for the use of these products. The report is open for public comment until December 22, 2014.

Agronomic benefits of neonicotinoid products

“One of the key benefits of this class of insecticides is that they help to efficiently manage early season pests, including soil pests,” explains McCarville.

He adds that common pests in Illinois include wireworm, seed corn maggot and bean leaf beetle. “If you can get control as they start to enter the field, you’ll effectively reduce later populations, as well as decrease the potential for the spread of bean pod mottle virus (BPMV).

Early season aphid control is another benefit of using these products as part of a seed treatment package. “It helps to delay when soybean aphids can colonize, which helps to push the whole population back, and can decrease the intensity and severity of the soybean aphid outbreak,” he adds.

Getting off to a good start

Early season growing conditions can be stressful for soybean seedlings, especially the cool, wet soils common with early planted soybeans. “Those are the conditions where seed treatments can be a really great tool for a farmer,” says McCarville.

“The earlier you plant, the better the yield potential. So to get maximum yields, growers plant earlier, and that’s when they also see the greatest benefits for fungicide and insecticide seed treatments.”

McCarville adds that because growers can choose their own seed treatment packages, they can combine insecticides with fungicides and nematicides, if needed. “When farmers use a complete seed treatment package, it’s really a great IPM approach,” he says. “They can use one pass at planting to control all of these pests, which reduces their costs, including fuel costs, and fewer trips through the field frees them up to do more scouting later in the season.”

Economic benefits of neonicotinoidseed treatments

McCarville says the data sets used in the research studies that form the basis of the EPA report show a 2.6 bushel per acre benefit using neonicotinoid seed treatments. On average, McCarville says, that yields approximately a 3:1 return on investment for the farmer.

He adds that while it may be difficult to predict the insect pressure at the beginning of a growing season, many growers have seen a strong yield response and keep returning to the use of the product. “Farmers are returning to that investment opportunity. They’re going back for a 3 to 1 ROI quite often.”

Alternative approaches

McCarville adds that soybean growers don’t have a lot of options as soil-based insecticides do not have systemic activity and cannot protect against early season pests above ground. This means growers would need to rely on foliar products, typically pyrethroids or organophosphates, for insect control in soybeans.

“The drawbacks to that approach are that there’s more cost involved and it’s more time intensive to apply them,” he says.

Other advantages of controlling pests with seed treatments include decreasing the quantity of active ingredient used for pest control and using a safer way to apply products to soybeans. “Using seed treatments we’re able to control agricultural pests with a reduced impact on beneficials, which includes both predators and pollinators.”

McCarville adds that as farmers get ready for the 2015 growing season, they should be considering what their best options are for managing pests. “It’s always important to make sound investments, but it’s especially important that farmers make sure they can maintain profitability for 2015.”

To provide another viewpoint on the importance of neonicotinoid products to North American crop production, Growing Matters retained Ag Informatics, an independent research firm, to conduct an independent study on the economic and societal benefits of these products. Growing Matters is a coalition on the stewardship, benefits and alternatives of neonicotinoid insecticides in North America led by Bayer CropScience, Syngenta and Valent U.S.A. Corporation, with support from Mitsui Chemicals Agro, Inc.

For more information on the EPA report and the report from Ag Informatics, visit www.agvoice4choice.com and www.growingmatters.com.

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