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Benefits & Advantages of Adjuvants and Surfactants?

Adjuvants and Surfactants: Their Benefits

advantages of adjuvantsAdjuvants are commonly used in modern agriculture to improve the performance of crop protection products. Adjuvants improve the cost-effectiveness of products because they can extend the length of time an active ingredient is effective, enhance the effectiveness of the AI, potentially reduce the amount of AI required for effective pest control, and help a farmer target the proper pests.

What is an adjuvant?

Adjuvants is a broad term that encompasses ingredients added to a crop protection product that enhance pesticide activity, modify characteristics of a product formulation or modify the characteristics of a spray solution.

Adjuvants may be added by the manufacturer to the product itself or by the grower to the spray tank. There are three basic types:

  • Activator adjuvants, including surfactants, wetting agents, penetrants and oils
  • Spray modifier agents, including stickers, thickening agents and foams
  • Utility modifiers, including emulsifiers, dispersants, stabilizers, compatibility agents and anti-foam agents.

Farmers are generally more familiar with activator adjuvants, such as surfactants, as they are commonly purchased separately from the product and added to the spray tank. Also common for on-farm use are adjuvants added to the spray tank that help control drift and prevent excessive foaming in the tank.

How surfactants work

Surfactants are one of the major categories of adjuvants.

Why are surfactants needed? In order for systemic pesticides to be effective, pesticides must be able to enter into the plant and move to parts of the plant that need protection. Today, farmers apply most pesticides after they are first mixed with water. While convenient, the plant's cuticle is water-repellent, and so many pesticide solutions benefit from the addition of a surfactant that helps the active ingredient move into the plant.

Depending on their formulations, surfactants work in different ways. They may increase the area of contact of spray droplets with the leaf, keep spray droplets moist for a longer period of time on the leaf, or modify the leaf surface to allow the active ingredient to move into the plant.

Adjuvant advice

There are some pesticides that do not require an adjuvant. But for those that do, if they are not used, pest control effectiveness can fall sharply. At the same time, if adjuvants are required and used, but not used properly, they can damage plants.

As a result, you should always read and carefully follow the crop protection product's label directions, as the manufacturer will indicate the type of adjuvant to add as well as the concentration of adjuvant that will maximize performance of the product. During epidemics or periods of heavy insect pest pressure, growers can be easily tempted to use any number of pest control methods. Using the wrong type or amount of adjuvant can destroy your plants.

For more information on the advantages of adjuvants and surfactants, please consult your Southern States Agronomy Expert or local Extension office.

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