For as much time as Agriliance researchers spend in test plots studying adjuvant deposition and droplet size, you could easily assume product development is their key responsibility. Spend some time observing the company's rigid product testing model and it be-comes clear the company is actually building an expertise that rises above its product line - they've become champions of convenience.
Agriliance product development specialists are constantly looking for ways to improve the company's offerings through new, more effective technologies. The overall cost of crop protection products may be declining, but growers are paying more for energy, crop nutrients and seed, so they need to get the most from their crop protection purchases, says Bob Herzfeld, adjuvants business manager for AgriSolutions™, the Agriliance brand that includes 200 adjuvants, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and seed and grain protectants. Just as important as performance, growers need products that create efficiencies, Herzfeld explains.
"Convenience is a bigger issue all the time," he says. "Growers need good, dependable performance from their crop protection programs, and they need ease of handling."
Strong performance and convenient handling are at the core of the AgriSolutions brand.
SEED OF NEED
It's no secret the world of agronomic supply has changed drastically in the last 20 years. Combining seed genetics and crop protection in a single package and the increased use of generic products have significantly affected margins and opportunities for product sales.
That's why the AgriSolutions line has been a highly valuable addition to the Agriliance portfolio. "AgriSolutions is a great strategic fit for us for several reasons," explains Herzfeld. "Many years ago, we began to see that adjuvants would play a key role in how agronomy inputs would be applied and, consequently, which products growers would choose. We stepped up to the challenge of finding adjuvants that would make other products work better and, at the same time, provide dealers with sales opportunities to replace eroding margins with traditional vended products."
As the AgriSolutions line expanded, the products helped Agriliance manage its role in the changing distribution system and capture additional revenue. Most AgriSolutions adjuvants are crop-based and 90 percent of those crop inputs are provided by cooperative system member-owners. Agriliance was helping growers two ways - by providing hard-working adjuvants and building demand for the crops growers were raising.
The company's innovations surrounding the use of ammonium sulfate (AMS) are a fitting example of how Agriliance enhances products to deliver both strong performance and labor savings. In a time when both dealers and growers are experiencing a shortage of reliable labor, many still spend a significant amount of time hauling 51-pound bags of dry AMS, Herzfeld explains. These dealers also have to tie-up precious storage space with bulky product bags and deal with the headache of mixing AMS in tanks before application.
Sparked by feedback from both growers and dealers, the Agriliance team explored ways to simplify the AMS process. The solution came in the form of Class Act® and Alliance, corn-based water conditioners that contain concentrated ammonium sulfate to alleviate sedimentation and plugged nozzles. From the start, creating convenience drove product development, Herzfeld recalls.
"We have regular input meetings with people at applicator training sessions, and they say 'we need a better way to do this.' That need becomes something we'll look at in our development process. Because we're so customer focused, it's our mission to do the best job we can for our member-owners."
As Agriliance focuses on producing crop-based adjuvants and nutrients, it taps member-owners for commodities such as soybeans, corn and canola that form the basis for its proprietary crop protection products. In fact, more than 1.2 million bushels of soybeans are needed each year to provide the soybean byproduct needed to manufacture Preference®, a non-ionic surfactant. Preference is applied to about 16 million acres annually.
These crop-based products have proved to deliver better results than many of their petroleum-based predecessors, Herzfeld reports, and offer a renewable input option as the costs of petroleum-based ingredients continue to climb.
TEST IT AGAIN—AND AGAIN
There's a saying in the crop protection business that one year of product testing can be more dangerous than no testing at all. Weather and soil conditions change annually, which lead to variations in yield and crop quality. But to truly understand the effectiveness of a crop protection product, the results need to be repeatable and that takes testing over multiple years. That's the kind of thinking that helped shape development of the AgriSolutions line.
Agriliance adheres to a minimum field test period of two years for both its proprietary technologies and the products it licenses from manufacturers. The two-year span of data points helps researchers replicate results and ensure the product will perform consistently in customer's fields, says Joe Gednalske, manager, product development.
Rounding out the field test is a rigorous cycle of shelf life testing, he explains. Agriliance researchers submit products to heating and freezing cycles to simulate harsh storage conditions. Essentially, they're looking for signs the formulation is degrading in storage, although pourability also serves as a measurable indicator. Barring any setbacks, products are sometimes released in a limited introduction as part of a test with growers.
"In order to maintain the high quality of the AgriSolutions brand, we insist that new products exceed the parameters established in our testing process," Gednalske says.
FINDING NEW APPLICATIONS
With some testing occurring year-round on fields in South America, Mexico, South Africa and the southern United States, the company's unique research model has helped identify unique and valuable product applications.
"We're always looking for new applications in the evolution of our products," says Gednalske. "We may be testing a product for one use, but because of our existing crop technologies, we're able to find other uses."
"We push the product to the limit in multiple ways until we find the area where it will effectively meet a grower's need," adds Herzfeld. "That's why two years of testing is beneficial."
The new product generated further innovation within the
AgriSolutions line with creation of PowerLockTM. The premix formulation combines the drift reduction and canopy penetration benefits of InterLock® with Preference®.
By combining the two products, Agriliance researchers were able to deliver wetting, spreading and deposition qualities in a single product. More important, the
new combination eliminated the headache of adding another product to the spray tank. This new measure of convenience showed further promise in field trials with its ability to improve droplet adhesion and slow evaporation, potentially reducing the need to re-spray to protect crops throughout vulnerable portions of the growing season.
Sometimes those successes even jump between product lines. In recent years, Agriliance acquired a high-fructose corn syrup base that enables glyphosate and AMS to enter a plant more quickly and in higher volumes. The company incorporated the derivative in select adjuvants, but eventually product developers saw an opportunity to combine the ingredient with elements found in Origin® products, the Agriliance micronutrients line. The resulting MAX-IN® line of products delivers vital nutrients to plants more effectively and efficiently.
"We're getting more consistent and dramatic yield increases because we're able to get the product into the crop more effectively," says Darin Ebeling, micronutrients business manager, proving once again how a focus on grower needs and the ability to find opportunity in unexpected places brings value and innovation to Agriliance customers. AM