Shortage of key sugar beet herbicide predicted

Sugar beet growers are being advised to secure their requirements of a key herbicide ahead of the growing season as global stocks are tight.

A worldwide shortage of metamitron mean that supplies of the herbicide will be very tight in 2012, warn manufacturers, who add that prices are set to rise by as much as 25%.

Circumstances beyond the company’s control are responsible for the current situation, which echoes that of last year, explains Lisa Hulshof of Makhteshim-Agan, who markets the Goltix range of herbicides.

“There’s an issue with the availability of the active ingredient. Demand for the raw material is rising and the supplier is struggling to keep up with it. The UK is not the only country affected – it’s a global problem.”

As it’s a whole-market situation, all products containing metamitron will be affected, she confirms. “Growers will have to plan ahead and budget for the price increase.”

Tight supplies mean stocks will have to be allocated, she says. “If we know how much people are likely to need, everything will be done to try and meet their requirements. So our advice to growers is to talk to your distributors.”

A core component of many weed control programmes, metamitron is widely used as a residual component and has a crop safety advantage, confirms sugar beet specialist Mike May.

“It’s an important herbicide for the post-emergence timing, where it has a wide weed spectrum. There are certain weeds, such as knotgrass, cranesbill and mayweed, where it is very useful indeed, so these are the ones which might cause problems if there isn’t enough to go round.”

Although there are some alternatives for certain situations, growers must plan how much metamitron they are likely to need, where they should be using it and what substitutions they can make, he advises.

“For early sprays, it’s possible to switch to an improved formulation product, such as Betanal Maxxpro (desmedipham, ethofumesate, lenacil + phenmedipham), which has better contact activity as well as good crop safety. It allows you to use less metamitron in the mix.”

Lenacil can also be used to add residual activity, although care is needed on light soils, says Mr May. “Chloridazon is another residual, but it’s not really used post-emergence.”

But Mr May warns that where growers are switching to other products, crop safety reasons should prohibit the use of a residual in the first spray.

Neil Thompson, Bayer’s campaign manager for root crops, acknowledges that metamitron will be in short supply again and that significant price rises are expected.

“It’s the same across Europe. Growers who are still using a basic weed control approach of phenmedipham plus a residual will be affected, as they are reliant on metamitron.”

Where Betanal Maxxpro is used as the basis of a programme, growers have more flexibility, he points out.

“You can use a lower rate of the residual in the tank mix and still get good weed control. So any product shortages will have less of an impact.”

Trials conducted across Europe have shown that it is possible to reduce the rate of metamitron from 1 litre/ha to 0.5 litres/ha when added to 1.5 litres/ha of Betanal Maxxpro, he says.

“We looked at the rate of the mixing partner in 21 different trials. There is some leeway with the metamitron rate, which could be the answer for many growers this season.”

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