Drop on a grass like leaf showing how the need adjuvants to spread out and cover the leaf surface better

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The Value of Adjuvants

Adjuvants have been around as long as pesticides and nutrients have been used to control plant growth. Broadly defined, an adjuvant is any substance added to a spray solution, separate from the active ingredient (AI) formulation, that will improve the active ingredient’s performance. The active ingredients in a spray solution are nutrients and pesticides and the basic value of adjuvants lays in supporting the activity of the active ingredients.

Adjuvants are an often-overlooked area when chemical inputs are considered, but the use of an adjuvant can make or break the effectiveness of an active ingredient. Adjuvants are often perceived as complicated chemical inputs in the sense that what type and when to use them depends on many variables. This makes choosing the right adjuvant not a simple process.  As agriculture, turf and ornamental, and industrial vegetation management continue to grow worldwide, the use of chemical inputs will grow, and so will the use of adjuvants.

What Is the Role of Adjuvants in Pesticide and Nutrient Management?

Adjuvants can modify a broad range of properties in a tank mix solution, such as droplet size, pH of the solution, increased plant uptake, and many others. In many ways, it comes down to assisting the active ingredient to move to, on, or into the plant to do its job.  Spray adjuvants enhance the effectiveness of  herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other agents used in agricultural, turf, and professional vegetation management. Without the addition of the right adjuvant, those active ingredients would not reach their full potential in many situations.

Spray additives can be grouped into two broad categories: activator and special purpose modifiers. Activator adjuvants include surfactants, wetting agents, stickers-spreaders, and penetrants; special purpose or utility modifiers such as emulsifiers, dispersants, stabilizing agents, coupling agents, co-solvents, compatibility agents, buffering agents, antifoam agents, drift control agents, and nutritional additives.

Why Use Adjuvants?

As mentioned earlier, adjuvants have many functionalities, and without the right adjuvant, the pesticides and nutrients cannot perform as well as possible. This means that with the correct use of an adjuvant, one can get away with using less pesticide to reach the same or better results for killing weeds, insects, and other pests. The more effective use of active ingredients creates less potential for runoff and pollution as well as potentially a lower risk for building resistance against the active ingredients. Using adjuvants, therefore, supports environmental and sustainability goals in reducing pollution and undesirable side effects. An additional benefit with the proper use of adjuvants is that it helps achieve the pesticide or nutrient’s full potential, creating the best ROI on the chemical input.

Let’s examine a common tank mix situation to understand the importance of adding the right adjuvant. Assume we need to create a tank mix in which the active ingredient needs to be diluted to get to the right dosage. This typically means that water needs to be added. The water quality, like pH, hardness, and salts present, can affect the pesticide or nutrient function. And water quality changes from location to location.

To ensure that the water quality does not affect the active ingredient’s outcome, a water conditioner is typically needed to combat those negative effects of poorer water quality.

Even in a relatively simple example, where only water is added, three things are important to know about choosing the right adjuvant:

    • Knowing your local water conditions when making a tank solution.
    • Knowing the requirements of the active ingredient.
    • Understanding how potentially other additives affect the solution.

It becomes even more complex if more active ingredients are in the tank mix, sustainability concerns exist, or regulations require adjuvants.

The proper adjuvant selection has a huge influence on active ingredients performance:

    • Applying without an adjuvant can lead to the largest reduction in performance, up to 90%.
    • Selecting the wrong type of adjuvant can reduce performance and increase the risk of crop injury.
    • Choosing a good enough vs. a premium adjuvant decreases your active ingredient’s performance up to 25%.

What Is the Value of Adjuvants?

Any application costs money, not only in ingredients but time and equipment. Adding more to your tank mix creates additional cost. But adding an active ingredient that does not work as it should, means that the value of the application is less or can be negative. 

Adjuvants are a small portion of overall expenses. The active ingredients, equipment, property cost, and personnel cost will consume a much bigger portion of the budget. 

In agriculture, CropLife’s ‘Growers Buying Intent Survey’ shows that farmers intend to buy more fertilizer or pesticide but less adjuvant year over year. The probable reason for this is that growers do not understand adjuvants’ value to their bottom line. Other industries might face similar challenges.

Exacto is dedicated to educating our customers about the Value of Adjuvants from an economic and sustainable perspective.

If you want to learn in 2021 how adjuvants add value to the whole agriculture, turf & ornamental, and industrial vegetation management markets, let’s connect:

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