Key Issues Perspective: Safeners could help grow 300-bushel corn

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Herbicide safeners to protect crops from herbicide injury aren’t new, but better ones are being developed continuously. Developing new safeners could be as important as discovering new active ingredients for new crop protection products.

"We are shooting to consistently raise 250 to 300 bushel per-acre corn in the near future. I expect whatever herbicide is used to help reach those yields will have a safener in it so that the corn gets off to a stress-free start," said Jim Stein, AgriPride FS certified crop advisor, working in Washington county, Ill., about 50 miles east of St. Louis.

"Corn plants basically digest (metabolize) herbicides, and those herbicides without a safener usually show some effect to emerged young corn," Stein explained. He noted that it usually isn't tissue damage or burning of the leaves but something much less obvious. He cited examples of twisting by the corn stalk, slight off-color plants for a short time and the corn not growing at all for a couple days. And if the weather is cool and wet, these short reactions often last longer than in ideal weather conditions.

"What the best safeners really do is allow the plant to digest the herbicide in a manner so that there is no stopping of growth. The plant is able to digest the herbicide without impacting the plant," Stein said.

Chad Rhinehart, Bayer CropScience technical sales consultant in Wisconsin, said the safeners that Bayer CropScience is using in such herbicides as Corvus and Capreno have allowed the company to introduce products that wouldn't have been marketable without the safeners.

"Bayer has been able to go back through its library of chemistries that may have shown some injury to a crop and rerun tests and trials with safeners included. Many active ingredients could have been borderline safe to use on a crop, but with a safener, they are now truly safe to the crop."

Rhinehart has seen extensive Capreno post-emergence herbicide results in Wisconsin, one of a few states that had a year's head start in using the product. He saw results that matched what Stein said about herbicides with premium safener technology.

"From that V1 or V2 stage all the way to V5 stage of a Capreno application, the corn kept growing right along with untreated or any pre emergence-treated corn. Typically, if you make an application with a post-emerge product, the crop will respond or slow down. You might not see it, but the crop will sit there and metabolize the chemistry and then move ahead. Where Capreno was used, we didn't see any affect on the corn," Rhinehart said.

Safeners also can extend the timeframe in which a product can be applied without affect to a crop. Rhinehart noted Balance Flexx as an example because the label timeframe reads pre-plant to V2 corn, which is longer than using the original Balance. Now, farmers have a product they can apply before planting up to V2. "The difference in adding a safener opened the application window by another two weeks in most situations," Rhinehart noted.

Stein contends the safener makes Corvus ideal for grass control and broadleaf weeds. "You cannot have a corn plant compete with grasses during early vegetative stages. The field has to be clean," Stein said. "It took a good safener to not impact corn while taking out the grass because corn actually is a grass, too," he said.

Stein's wrap up of the whole situation is, "Whatever we can do to make the corn plant focus on development of the ear and kernels and be more efficient, that gives us the most yield potential."

For more information about herbicide safeners, contact Chad Rhinehart at

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