For many lawn care operators (LCOs), fungicide applications are an add-on service for their customers battling turf diseases. It’s important for LCOs to stay up to speed on new products, regulations and customer expectations to ensure they are using the right products as efficiently as possible.
“The fungicide market is always changing—and for numerous reasons,” says Paul Giordano, a Bayer Green Solutions Team specialist. “More often than not, it’s dramatically changed by environmental regulation and newer, better chemistries being developed. Sometimes it has to do with emerging diseases or widespread changes in management practices. And other times, the market is forced to adjust to evolving customer expectations or awareness.”
What’s new with fungicides?
One of the newest developments in the fungicide market is the introduction of succinate dehydrogenase inhibitor (SDHI) fungicides, says Lane Tredway, technical services manager for Syngenta. Using new technologies, manufacturers have rejuvenated an old class of chemistry to develop fungicides that are more effective than their predecessors at controlling a wide range of turf diseases. Syngenta’s newest SDHI product is Velista. Other SDHIs labeled for turf include Prostar 70WG (Bayer), Kabuto (PBI/Gordon Corp.), Indemnify (Bayer), Xzemplar (BASF) and Emerald (BASF), according to Penn State Extension.
“We now have a much better understanding of how these fungicides work and exactly where the target is in the pathogens we are trying to control,” Tredway says. “That knowledge lets us design a molecule that would penetrate the site more effectively and be more potent and has allowed us to optimize the active ingredient for the pathogens we are trying to control.”
While SDHI fungicides have been used in the golf course market for several years, Tredway says their adoption has been a bit slower in the lawn care market because the existing quinone outside inhibitor fungicides still perform well. But he warns that it’s inevitable that turf diseases will eventually become resistant to the products that are currently available. From a resistance management standpoint, he says it’s important for manufacturers to stay ahead of the curve in the search for new chemistries and for LCOs to understand how to use them.
We need to think about resistance management and working other chemistries into a program approach when it makes sense from a performance standpoint,” Tredway says. “We are always looking for something new that can meet an unmet or anticipated need.”
Rick Fletcher, technical services manager for turf and ornamentals at Nufarm Americas, says another emerging trend in the fungicide market are combination products that are adaptable to granular delivery methods. These products combine one or two plant movement strategies—such as an upward systemic and a local penetrant—to provide better control of an array of diseases.
“Combination products are required for the ‘shotgun’ or ‘silver bullet’ approach and add the benefit of resistance management if different modes of action groups are used,” Fletcher says. “LCOs typically look for a product that will cover a multitude of potential problems. Systemic and local penetrant-type products are often used because of adaptability to granular applications that are later watered into the root zone by the homeowners or site managers.”
Giordano agrees. “We tend to see that many of the newest products on the market incorporate multiple active ingredients to ensure a broad spectrum of diseases are covered during any given period of disease activity.”
With these new products that offer broad spectrum control, Tredway says LCOs can get the same outcomes with one product that used to require several products and tank mixtures.
He explains that the active ingredient in Velista can help control a range of diseases at the same time. “This will allow LCOs to get the job done more efficiently,” Tredway says.
Regulations and consumer demand also impact the fungicide market. Fletcher says fungicide treatments are typically viewed as add-on services for higher-end lawn care companies, so the market for these products is relatively small. In addition, regulations and ordinances continue to limit the market’s expansion, so fungicides are not typically a chemical manufacturer’s primary focus in the lawn care market.
“The reason manufacturers don’t develop more is that they cost a lot of money and the market is small,” Fletcher says. “From a regulatory point of view, I don’t see any huge changes allowing more disease management products to come to the home lawn market. You’ll still get one or two fungicide products introduced that make sense and meet regulatory hurdles, but I don’t see that door being flung wide open.”
Along these lines, Giordano says many lawn care companies are seeing their customers become more conscientious of the products used on their lawns and landscapes and demand more responsibility and accountability when it comes to environmental stewardship. Because of this trend, LCOs may consider how to communicate the benefits and features of new “ecofriendly” active ingredients. As biologicals and alternative options for disease control continue to play a role in management programs, Giordano adds that customer expectations will likely need to be adjusted because these products often don’t deliver the same efficacy that their synthetic counterparts do, particularly when it comes to spectrum and duration of control.
“We’re heavily invested in research on biological solutions for the green industry and will continue to innovate in this space for years to come,” he says. “This is particularly important given the reality of losing some trusted tools and older chemistries to regulatory and local ordinance restrictions in the lawn care segment.”
Fungicides in the field
Caleb Ault, owner of UltraGreen in Little Rock, Ark., offers fungicide treatments as part of his lawn care program. When purchasing his fungicides, Ault looks for products that offer broad-spectrum control so he can treat as many different diseases as possible. In addition to traditional fungicides, Ault also uses Holganix, an organic, plant-based product that incorporates soil microbes, microbe food and nutrient enhancers to build resilient plants and healthier soils in his lawn care program. For Ault, this process is an “insurance policy” for his customers because his ultimate goal is to improve the overall health of the soil to eradicate and prevent diseases in the long term. UltraGreen is a $3.2-million company that provides 78 percent lawn care and 22 percent other services to a 98 percent residential clientele.
“Fungicides are great and they do work—but they are more about a temporary fix. You have to apply them month after month, year after year,” Ault says. “We want to try to make the soil healthy, get the pH right and give the turf an opportunity to recover. It’s a process and it’s a challenge to deal with disease.”
While fungicides are a critical component to his lawn care program, Ault says the products are often misunderstood by the average lawn care customer. Selling fungicide services can be difficult because of the need to apply the product every three to four weeks, depending on the situation.
“Selling a fungicide as a ‘cure all’ is a misconception that’s hard to overcome,” Ault says. “The chemical manufacturers do a good job of educating, but more educational pieces for homeowners about why this product is only going to work for 15 to 21 days and why we have to perform multiple applications would be helpful.”