Getting more from beneficial insects may benefit soybean growers

James Oliver has come a long ways from his early days of growing up on a cotton farm near Holly Ridge, Miss.

Oliver has flown World War II- era planes as a crop-duster, worked as a sales and marketing executive for a basic manufacturer in the U.S., managed two or three generic product distributors and currently owns a company that specializes in insect growth regulators.

(The latter, Raymat Crop Science, is headquartered in Pleasanton, Calif., with offices in Shanghai, China. It sells to both the agriculture and animal health markets, including providing the material that protects dogs and cats from fleas.)

So it’s interesting that Oliver and his wife, Patricia, have returned to their roots, purchasing and operating several farms that are located not far from where they grew up in the central Mississippi Delta.

Some would say the creation of Oliver Agri Enterprises Inc., which includes several Mid-South farming operations, allows James Oliver to enjoy the best of both his worlds – his passion for farming and his experience in manufacturing, distributing and marketing crop protection chemicals.

He’s combining both those in a project that may help soybean growers reduce their costs and increase yields while making fewer late-season pesticide applications.

More reliance on beneficial insects

“What we’re trying to do is demonstrate our ability to grow a full-season crop of soybeans without the use of hard pesticides by using insect growth regulators,” said Oliver, interviewed at a media event on his farm near Stoneville, Miss.

The field where Oliver was speaking was treated with Cavalier 2L (diflubenzuron) at rates of 4, 6 and 8 ounces per acre in combination with 8 ounces of Quadris Top. The 120-acre field was divided into four 30-acre blocks, which received the varying rates of Cavalier 2L.

This is the second year of the test for the field, which, in 2015, produced an average of 60 bushels per acre. (Oliver is working to correct some fertility problems in the field, which he began farming last year. The land was formerly part of Monsanto’s Leland Agronomy Center.)

“We think we can carry this crop with a full season application of our insect growth regulator and beneficial insects alone without any hard pesticide applications on this field,” he noted. “We’ve done this successfully for two years in a row so we think we have the ability to do it as long as we can get the beans planted early.”

The field was planted on April 20 this year. He expects it will be ready for harvest in mid-September or early October if weather conditions permit.

Range of pests

Oliver says one of the keys to making the concept work is the high number of beneficial insects that are typically found in central Delta fields these days. Cavalier 2L controls most soybean insect pests, including velvetbean caterpillars, green clover worms, cabbage loopers, saltmarsh caterpillars and grasshoppers.

“If we’re successful in keeping our beneficial insects and protecting them, and then using an insect growth regulator against our pest species, we’re pretty sure we can take these fields for multiple years without any hard pesticides.”

Diflubenzuron has been on the market for a number of years. In animal health uses, it’s made in a large enough size (seven to 10 microns) so that it won’t be absorbed by cattle and will pass through the animal’s digestive system and into the manure, where flies lay their eggs.

A chitin inhibitor, the diflubenzuron disrupts the fly larvae’s growth cycle preventing its survival. In that form, the material has a half-life of about six months so that it provides longer-term activity on the target insects.

“When we began working with diflubenzuron, I was looking at how we use it in animals and how we use it in ag,” said Oliver. “One of the major advances we’ve had over the last 15 to 20 years is that we now have some incredible soybean fungicides. When you’re manufacturing soybean fungicides, what you’re looking for is coverage so you can totally cover that leaf.

Better coverage on leaves

“You can’t do that with 10-micron particle sizes so we changed the manufacturing plant to take the particle size down to between 1.5 and 2.2 microns almost precisely,” he said. “So for ag we’ve taken the particle size down to about 2 microns. We know we will get a shorter half-life, but it will also give us additional coverage. It’s also the perfect particle size for enhancing your soybean fungicide, developing a synergistic effect.”

Oliver initially applied the new formulation of diflubenzuron at the 4-ounce rate in early July, but decided that was too early for the product. In the last two years, he’s applied the varying rates of Cavalier 2L and Quadris Top at the R-4 growth stage or around July 15 in the early-planted soybeans.

“You know what July 20 means around here?” he asked. “Around here on July 20 you’re going to get an insect spike, normally from the 20th to the 25th. So we held off last year until July 15 and put on our application of diflubenzuron and Quadris Top, which is a little late for the fungicide. But we didn’t have to come back with any late season applications of insecticides.”

Oliver believes they have reproduced the same situation in 2016. “Now we may have to call a big yellow airplane next week, but we may make it through the second year without having bought a single application of insecticide.” (The media event was held on Aug. 11.)

Cavalier 2L, which is labeled for soybeans, peanuts, citrus, and tree, nut and vine crops, has been undergoing testing by university researchers and crop consultants for several years.

7.7-bushel increase

In one trial conducted by Southern Ag Consulting in 2015, soybeans treated with 2 ounces of Cavalier 2L plus 4 ounces of Priaxor fungicide at the R-3 growth stage produced an average of 43.5 bushels per acre or 7.7 bushels per acre more than the untreated check.

“Farmers who tankmix Cavalier 2L with their fungicide on their early beans are protected without flaring secondary insect pests, such as soybean loopers and corn earworms, and most do not have to make a late season, expensive insecticide treatment,” says Oliver.

“We have consistently seen yield increases ranging from two to seven bushels per acre on Cavalier 2L-treated soybeans,” says Oliver.  “The yield enhancement is derived from improved plant health, and from plant protection.” 

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