The Insect Pest Wild Card: How to Prepare for Insecticide Applications in 2023

By Jackie Pucci                     CropLife News                      February 6, 2023

Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda). Photo: Frank Peairs, Colorado State University,

The big changes for the ’22 season on the insect-fighting front were 1. Higher prices, and 2. The loss of chlorpyrifos as a tool, following EPA’s decision to revoke tolerances for the widely used active ingredient last year.

The ban put growers in a tight spot this season as hot, dry conditions triggered spider mite flare-ups in the western Corn Belt. Not only was chlorpyrifos known for its fast knockdown and control of spider mites, it was also close to being the only good remaining option for alfalfa weevil, as well as fall armyworm in the southern U.S., says Tyler Steinkamp, Crop Protection Product Manager with WinField United.

Some pyrethroids like bifenthrin (Tundra) are still effective against spider mites and an organophosate like dimethoate (Dimate 4E) from WinField United are broad-spectrum insecticides. Many are not broadspectrum and are not as readily available in the market, which creates more reliance on the few remaining alternatives, Steinkamp explains.

“That one-size-fits-all insecticide doesn’t necessarily exist,” he tells CropLife®. “We’ve already started to see some resistance to alfalfa weevil to pyrethroid insecticides, because pyrethroids are inexpensive, easy to use, and fairly safe. The problem then, is they get thrown in on every load, and we start seeing resistance build up.”

Steinkamp also stresses the need to put the right adjuvants in the tank to get the active ingredient out of the spur down into the canopy. Insects must come into contact or ingest the insecticide, so making sure the plant is completely covered is critical.

To help replace the loss of chlorpyrifos, Atticus is launching (pending EPA approval) in ’23 Punisher, a premix of acetamiprid and bifenthrin for soybeans and corn. Mike Henderson, Executive Vice President, Ag Markets with Atticus, notes that chlorpyrifos inventories that people were utilizing last year are now mainly depleted, so it will be important to access alternatives.

Henderson says that the loss of the AI aside, opportunities for insecticides are growing, driven partly by the fact that farmers continue to gauge the return on investment of fungicides and use insecticides as tank companions in those applications in an efficiency play.

“I think the American farmer is going to have the ability to access the solutions they want. It doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges along the way. Largely speaking, the business has done a really admirable job at managing toward this new normal — it’s still nothing like it was three to five years ago,” Henderson tells CropLife, “but people are adjusting, and that probably doesn’t surprise us. We’re a pretty resilient industry in the end.”

Henderson says that going forward, Atticus is working heavily on insecticides and miticides, based specifically around spinosad, as it builds its portfolio. The company will enter the zeta-cypermethrin (FMC Mustang Maxx) and beta-cyfluthrin (Bayer Leverage) businesses. On miticides, it will bring spiromesifen (Bayer Oberon) to the market in ’23 as well. “We’re continuing to invest in our insecticide portfolio to bring more and more solutions to the grower and our retail partners.”

Fall armyworm made its way to Iowa this year, a scenario Steinkamp has never seen before. It’s that element of (relative) unpredictability of the insect pest that adds to the difficulty of lead time and stocking product, particularly for biologicals. “It’s more about rigorous scouting,” Steinkamp adds. “When you start to make an application every year, the problem is that resistance builds up. You have to be a little bit more reactive where you’re out there scouting, because not every year are you going to have to make that application.”

Most sources noted the upward trend of corn rootworm pressure, resulting in higher demand for foliar insecticides for adults, but also on the soil-applied side for at-plant usage.

Based on trapping data as reported to the Corn Rootworm Adult Monitoring Network during the 2022 growing season, U.S. corn growers will face corn rootworm pressures in 2023 comparable to what they’ve experienced in recent years.

Based on 2022 data, reported geographies that appear to be especially vulnerable to corn rootworm in 2023 include central and northern Iowa, southern Minnesota, and areas near the Missouri River in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Other Important Pieces

Ryan Wolf, Marketing Activation Director with WinField United, estimates that prices for many chemistries were up roughly 10% to 20% over the 2021 season. What is the best approach to preparing for the ’23 season, accounting for the wild card that insecticides present?

“Look at your history: What you have sprayed in the past, how many acres have you sprayed, and develop a game plan from that of what your pests are, what your levels of treatment are, and then start building a plan. What are you going to use, if it’s not going to be chlorpyrifos? You’re going to have to start building a little bit of inventory that you’re probably not used to in your warehouse.”

On supply chain, all sources reported continuing progress and foresee few problems getting customers the products they need for ’23.

David Wheeler, U.S. Commercial Director for FMC, tells CropLife the company has expanded and diversified its domestic capacity to improve on its ability to formulate in the U.S. through adding tollers and capital improvement projects. With respect to lead times, adjustments to the six-month window now needed — versus 30 days several years back — have been made and things are largely on track.

As pest pressures can be unpredictable, retailers are getting inventories on hand much earlier. “We’ve largely built back on a lot of confidence that’s needed. We are shipping a lot of that material right now, and they will have it on their hands now or early in the first quarter,” Wheeler says. The consequence is heavier pressure to produce supplies like insecticides over the winter, at least six to eight months before they’re applied.

“So far, we are able to keep up with that, but I think that could result in over-capacity at some point to the industry,” Wheeler says.

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