A trio of technologies has emerged to counteract the herbicide resistance that wreaked havoc among crops and forced many farmers into bankruptcy.
Since first being discovered in 1968, herbicide-resistant weeds have been reported in nearly 500 unique cases. Monsanto came to the rescue in 1996 via its introduction of genetically engineered Roundup Ready® (RR) crops, which increased crop yields, but eventually, 22 weeds worldwide became resistant to the glyphosate used in RR. Growers soon began employing PPO-inhibitors, but by 2015, PPO-resistant Palmer amaranth caused countless farmers to experience yield loss and struggle to control resistant weeds.
To counteract herbicide resistance, the industry has been developing three technologies:
Stacked herbicide tolerance (GMO)
To battle glyphosate-resistant weeds, agrochemical companies have been cultivating new herbicides or, more commonly, using genetic engineering to create herbicide-resistant crop plants. However, the cost of developing new active ingredients and the time required to develop them, along with the limited potential for economic return, have made it difficult to bring new products to market quickly. To fill the gap, companies chose to introduce 2,4-D and dicamba resistance to crops.
There are two of these stacked herbicides technologies currently on the market: Xtend technology (Monsanto/Bayer) and Enlist Technology ( Dow/Corteva). Both have advantages and disadvantages, which are analyzed in detail in Kline’s Strategies to Mitigate Weed Resistance to Herbicides: U.S. Market Analysis and Opportunities study. Both technologies are creating multiple resistance capabilities, for which unique formulations will be required.
Stacked gene seeds currently cover 70%-80% of planted acres of soybean and cotton and will likely increase to about 90%; there is a split between Enlist and Xtend technologies.
New herbicide modes of action
While no new modes of herbicide action had been developed in the past 30 years, some finally began emerging in 2020. Companies such as BASF, Bayer, FMC, and Mitsui announced new herbicides that have some novel modes of action; still, none of the new herbicides appear to be game changers in the short term.
Perhaps the most interesting novel herbicide, tetflupyrolimet from FMC Corporation, was granted a new mode of action classification in the spring of 2021. FMC plans to start the registration process and launch products containing tetflupyrolimet in the transplanted and direct-seeded rice markets in 2023. The use of tetflupyrolimet is being tested in other crops, including sugarcane, wheat, soybeans, and corn.
Herbicide combination products
Since combination herbicides exploded in the 2000s, market share has grown to 37% of U.S. herbicide sales. Combinations contain between two and four different actives; new actives are often introduced in combination herbicides.
Today, more than 300 different brands are sold in the U.S. market by all the majors, post-patent suppliers, and distributors. Syngenta is the sales leader followed by Corteva (which has the most combination brands). Distributors such as Loveland, Tenkoz, and Helena all sell different combination herbicides under private-label brands; even off-patent suppliers like Nufarm and Albaugh offer combination herbicides. According to our projections, Kline expects combination herbicides to grow at a rate of 6%, resulting in U.S. sales of $3.5 billion in 2025.
To take a deep dive into analysis of all three strategies, consider Kline’s Strategies to Mitigate Weed Resistance to Herbicides: U.S. Market Analysis and Opportunities. To learn more about the study, visit our website.