Retailers are helping their customers learn the ins and outs of plant growth regulators.

Lodging in wheat can rob profit from Canadian growers by restricting crop yields. Lodging is more common in wet soils and tends to impact certain varieties more heavily than others, and the risk of lodging also increases with certain practices growers use, including seeding a too-dense crop canopy or the over-application of nitrogen.

These limitations have posed a significant challenge to growers who want to push for higher yields through increased fertility. If lodging incidents occur, growers could face diminishing returns on all of their crop input investments.

But now, there is a new product segment available to Canadian growers that can help alleviate the occurrence of lodging. Making plant growth regulators (PGRs) part of their agronomic plan will allow growers to start implementing more intensive practices. A PGR can help growers use strategies like increased fertility and increased seeding rate to push for higher yields without worrying that lodging problems may steal their profits.

“In the past, growers who were looking to push fertility had to evaluate the potential for increased yield versus the increased risk of lodging, and therefore loss of yield,” says Nick Hubbard, product manager for Manipulator with Belchim Crop Protection Canada (formerly Engage Agro, until Jan. 14, 2019).

“The key component of why I think growers and retailers should be really excited about having this new product is that it furthers the ability to protect a grower’s crop input investments,” he says.

Bringing PGRs to Canada

Engage made numerous headlines last year after launching its plant growth regulator, “Manipulator.” Manipulator is registered for use on wheat to produce a crop with a shorter, thicker stem that is less prone to lodging.

This is achieved by the product’s active ingredient, chlormequat chloride, which suppresses the growth hormone gibberellin, one of the key hormones that causes a plant stem to elongate. Suppressing gibberellin results in a shorter stem that is less prone to lodging than the stem of an untreated plant.

Although PGRs have been used in other parts of the world since the 1960s, they’re only recently making their mark in Canada. This is because many older PGRs, primarily developed for European climates, were incompatible with the short growing season in Western Canada.

Engage started developing Manipulator in 2011 in order to introduce PGRs to the Canadian market, and officially registered it for use on wheat in Canada in 2014. However, the company chose not to widely distribute it, because chlormequat chloride had no maximum residue limit (MRL) in Canada’s largest wheat market, the United States.

After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved an MRL in early 2018, the company began actively promoting the product – and it flew off the shelves. So much so that The Western Producer reported in May 2018 that Engage was completely sold out of the product.

PGRs At the Ag Retail Level

Hubbard credits this level of demand in part to the numerous Canadian ag retailers who have performed trials to test the product, introducing it to their grower customers over the past few seasons.

“We launched Manipulator, but really we launched a new segment. Usually new products are already in a class – herbicides, fungicides, et cetera,” says Hubbard. “So, we knew we had to drive confidence in the product’s efficacy. Sometimes people initially get hesitant about a ‘fringe’ product like a PGR.”

Double Diamond Farm Supply is one of the retailers Belchim partnered with to test the product and demonstrate the optimal way for growers to use this technology on their farms.

Double Diamond has retails throughout south western Manitoba and south eastern Saskatchewan. They have been conducting trials with Manipulator in south central Manitoba since 2013. Steve Barron, CCA with Double Diamond, says the product has been a good fit for that south central Manitoba region.

“We have found that with our clay loam soil type and moisture environment, the product has delivered a very consistent ROI,” says Barron. “Using the research that we have conducted internally, we are now actively promoting the product for use on wheat.”

Barron says Double Diamond has seen this consistent ROI in its trials with Manipulator on hard red spring wheat and utility wheat varieties. To get a more well-rounded view of the product, they have also introduced enhanced efficiency fertilizer products, combined with 4R practices to complement the PGR’s effect.

When to Use a PGR

Before recommending a PGR to a customer, Barron says Double Diamond agronomy staff examine that customer’s operation to determine if there are limiting factors on their land that could prevent a PGR from reaching its full potential, and the way that customer manages their crop nutrition.

“We have to understand if this value-added product is going to deliver an ROI on that farm,” says Barron. “When a grower is planning their crop nutrition plan, that’s really when we have to determine if they’re going to want to use a PGR.”

Barron estimates 40 per cent of Double Diamond’s customers in the central Manitoba region are using a PGR. He expects this number to increase in the coming years, as he sees PGRs as a natural complement to evolving agricultural practices.

“I see an elevated usage pattern upcoming,” he says. “With ongoing advances in seed technology, farm equipment and zone management, PGRs will likely become more prevalent in the future.”

If we can complement our client-partner’s return on investment with products, services or advanced technologies, that delivers success to both our organizations.
Steve Barron

That being said, Barron says that fields should be individually profiled when considering a PGR application, as the product won’t be a good fit for every field.

Hubbard agrees, saying, “It’s not a miracle product. It’s not going to work for everybody, and you have to understand the conditions that you have on your field and the practices that you want to use.”

By helping growers answer these questions to decide if a PGR is right for their farm, retailers can help their customers protect their investments, benefiting both their customers’ business and their own.

“If we can complement our client-partner’s return on investment with products, services or advanced technologies, that delivers success to both our organizations” says Barron. “Observing and filtering the performance of these types of advanced product strategies is one way to enhance our clientele partnerships today and tomorrow.”

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