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High Marks for Cruiser

Wednesday, December 15, 2004
filed under: Insects

South Dakota State University extension agronomist Terry Hall sums up what he’s been hearing about the performance of Cruiser during the 2004 growing season: “It seems like those who used it were glad they did.”

In fact, one sunflower grower from South Dakota was so pleased with the performance of the insecticide seed treatment this past summer that he pulled his pocket knife on a product rep. No, the sales rep for Syngenta, which makes Cruiser, was never in any trouble with a customer dissatisfied with the product’s performance; in fact, it was quite the opposite. Just horsing around, the grower told the sales rep that he was going to come after him if Syngenta ever took the product off the market.

Cruiser seems to be, as the saying goes, “just what the doctor ordered” for sunflower growers who have had problems establishing stands, particularly due to early-season insect pressure. The product, with thiamethoxam the active ingredient, provides systemic early-season protection in both germinating seed and young plants from damage and stand loss caused by wireworm, pale striped flea beetle, sunflower beetle, and other secondary soil pests in sunflower. Studies also indicate that sunflower seed treated with Cruiser helps improve plant vigor, ultimately increasing yield.

Cruiser came into the market at a critical time, since the planter-box treatment Lindane was removed from the market several years ago, leaving no labeled early-season wireworm product available for sunflower.

The only other insecticide seed treatment available for sunflower growers last spring was Concur, manufactured by Gustafson and marketed by Agriliance. The product was available through a Section 18 label in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Nebraska. Gary Halvorson, head of product registration at Agriliance, expects Concur to be available in these same states again in 2005, and perhaps others, depending on need and label clearance. Concur, labeled as Gaucho in other crops, contains metalaxyl to protect seed and seedlings against pythium and imidacloprid to protect the crop from insects such as wireworms and flea beetles.

Since Concur is a dry, talc-based hopper-box treatment that needs to be mixed with the seed in the planter, it costs less than Cruiser, which is commercially applied to the seed before it is purchased by the farmer. This eliminates handling involved in applying a separate insecticide at planting, a plus for growers. (It’s still important to calibrate planters; producers should follow their planter manufacturer recommendations on talc and graphite at planting).

Sunflower growers in central South Dakota have been in particular need of an early-season insecticide. Problems with the pale striped flea beetle were becoming so acute that some sunflower growers in affected hot spots were beginning to question whether to grow the crop. So when an effective solution came around to help control the problem, it’s no wonder a grower might pull out a pocket knife in jest to affirm how valuable he feels the product is.

“We’ve received very good reports. The people who used it had better vigor and better plant stands, with virtually no replant situations,” says Cliff Watrin, Syngenta’s technical manager for seed treatments. “Response has been positive, even more so in those areas of South Dakota which have had flea beetle problems. We expect seed treatment interest to be high next year.” Syngenta seed treatment manager Mark Jirak says about 35% of sunflower acreage in the Dakotas was treated with Cruiser in 2004, and expects treated acreage to be about 60% or more next year.

Sunflower growers shouldn’t expect Cruiser to control insects beyond those listed on the product label. Cruiser may help protect plants from cutworms early in the season, but shouldn’t be expected to offer complete control, especially as the growing season progresses. And there is consensus among experts that Cruiser won’t be effective in controlling stem weevils. Scouting and control measures for stem weevils generally take place between late June and mid July, when residual activity of the seed treatment will have waned.

Grower experiences

Rod Mosiman, who farms near Onida, S.D., planted half of a section of oil sunflower this past season with Cruiser-treated seed, half without. He figures the treated sunflower had about a 200 lb/acre yield advantage. He noticed the treatment’s effectiveness in controlling flea beetle. “I think all of my sunflowers will be treated next year,” says Mosiman, who follows a spring/winter wheat-sunflower rotation.

Ron Aberle grew a strip of sunflower treated with Cruiser next to an untreated strip (both the same oil hybrid, on no-till small grain stubble) as well this year on his farm near Menoken, N.D. “That’s the best way to compare, side by side,” he says.

A weigh wagon yield check showed a 300-lb yield advantage to the Cruiser-treated sunflower. “All my oils were treated with Cruiser this year, all of my corn was, and all of my sunflower will be next year too,” Aberle says. “The treated sunflower just seemed to germinate and pop up better, with a stronger stand. We’re going more and more no-till, and wireworms seem to be a problem there, so I think the seed treatment helps with that too.”

Aberle grows wheat, barley, corn, field peas, and soybeans, along with confection and oil sunflower. This year he aimed for a confection population of about 20,000 plants (dropping about 22,000 seeds at planting) and shooting for a 22,000 plant population for his oils (dropping 24,000 at planting).

He solid seeds (15” spacings) the oil sunflower with a Concord air seeder and plants some of his confections in 30” rows. “If we wouldn’t need to have things nice and uniform to spray for seed weevils, I don’t know if I’d plant many in rows. But you want that field uniform. If you’re spending $12-$13/acre to hire an airplane for spraying, you want those plants in the same stage of development so it’s all blooming about the same.” He plans to step up from an eight-row 20-ft planter to a 16-row 40-ft planter next year to cover more ground faster with his planter.

On some of his fields this year Aberle had enough carryover fertilizer from the previous year, so he just put down starter fertilizer (11-52-0) at planting with the air drill, banded between the 15” row spacings. With the planter, he applies in-furrow liquid fertilizer. “I’ve used a little 10-34-0, but this year went with five to six gallons/acre of 6-24-6.”

Aberle prefers to plant sunflower sometime between May 15-25. “They went in quick this year,” he says. “We were bone dry at planting, but we got lucky with timely rains. And the no-till makes a difference.” He was quite pleased with the way his ‘flowers turned out this year: little problem with insects, disease, or weeds, confection yields averaging about 1,800 lbs/acre and oils about 2,000 lbs.

“We have few problems with weeds. We put Spartan down early, do a glyphosate burndown at planting, then come back with Select. If you keep your ‘flowers clean, they’ll usually treat you well,” Aberle says. And how does he feel about a prospective shortfall in Spartan next year? “I already bought my Spartan for next year,” he says.

New disease control component

A number of seed companies beginning in 2005 will offer the option of Cruiser supplemented with the seed treatment fungicide Dynasty (azoxystrobin) for downy mildew suppression in sunflower. This bundled seed treatment will be called Cruiser DM (DM, for downy mildew control). Another fungicide seed treatment (fenamidone) is being developed by Gustafson, which is expected to be available in 2006.

USDA-ARS plant pathologist Tom Gulya points out that Dynasty has a different mode of action than Apron XL (mefenoxam) and Allegiance (metalaxyl) the fungicides that have commonly been used for downy mildew protection for nearly 20 years. Dynasty will offer protection –although not absolute protection – against Apron-resistant strains of downy mildew. Planting an insecticide/fungicide-treated hybrid will help protect against a broad spectrum of diseases, including Pythium, damping-off and seedling blight.

Some seed companies will offer the option of buying Cruiser or Cruiser DM-treated seed. Mycogen Seeds is focusing its efforts on the bundled insecticide/fungicide treatment. Mycogen Seeds agronomist Bruce Due believes that the day is fast approaching when it will be standard practice on a majority of sunflower acreage to plant with Cruiser or Cruiser DM treated seed, just like any other input or pest control measure. A quickly penciled-out look at the prospective economic return makes it an easy decision. “The cost of a seed treatment is about $5 to $6 per acre. Twelve-cent ‘flowers at an additional 200 to 300 pounds per acre treated versus untreated is $24 to $36. That’s not a bad payback.”

An additional plus to a seed treatment, Due points out, is that sunflower growers who have been increasing their planting rate by about 15 to 20% to compensate for stand losses will be able to reduce seed drop down to about 5 to 10% above desired plant population (you still need to compensate for about 5% non-germination).

If you’re growing for the de-hull market, Due recommends aiming for a final population of about 18,000-20,000 plants/acre. For bird food, where yield is most important, Due advises shooting for a final population of 21,000-23,000 plants/per acre. For oil, he recommends 20,000-22,000 plants/acre, and for confection in-shell that stresses seed size, aim for a final population of about 17,000-20,000 plants/acre.

The standard practice of planting insecticide/fungicide treated seed may bring other benefits as well. “I can see seed companies offering better replant policies if you’re using treated seed,” says Due. “And it will give you a clearer picture to evaluate the genetics of a hybrid, with less interference from the environment.” – Tracy Sayler

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