Jun 30, 2015
Using proper herbicide formulations to prevent damage

In many cases, the grower themselves did not apply herbicides that caused damage to their crops; a neighboring farmer did. It is important to remember that you are responsible for drift, and legal measures can be taken if you are careless with your herbicide application. The most important thing to consider when applying an herbicide is weather conditions. Don’t spray when temperatures are high, when winds will carry herbicide vapor elsewhere, or when a temperature inversion exists. Another way to minimize herbicide drift is by selecting the proper formulation of a particular herbicide.

Have you ever taken a close look at the active ingredients listed on the herbicide label that you use? Products may contain 2, 4,-D, dicamba, triclopyr, or MCPA, and are formulated in two ways; amines or esters. While not all of these products are used in vegetable production, they may be used for other crops, including field crops, lawns, and/or athletic fields. For most growers, non-vegetable crops surround vegetable fields. Knowing the differences of herbicide formulations and when to use them can increase your weed control dramatically. Using the right formulation can also prevent damage to non-target plants and vegetables as well.

For the sake of conversation, 2, 4-D will be used as an example. 2, 4-D has been a staple of weed control since the 1940s, and continues to be a primary ingredient in a majority of multiple-ingredient herbicide products. 2, 4-D controls a large number of perennial weeds, but usually has little effect on grasses. However, 2, 4-D can injure non-target species (including vegetables) if used incorrectly. Many broadleaf plants including tomatoes, grapes, flowers, and some trees are sensitive to 2, 4-D. While not intended, herbicidal drift occurs on a regular basis. In most cases, drift is a result of 2, 4-D’s volatility; when it vaporizes and moves to a non-target area. This can (and does) occur with several other commonly used herbicides.

2, 4-D and other herbicides are commonly formulated as either an amine salt or ester. Esters have higher vapor pressures than amines. Higher vapor pressures result in increased volatilization. Even though there are some “low volatile” esters available, amine salts are generally less volatile than esters. Amine formulations are typically used in landscape settings and scenarios when drift is a primary concern.

The question is then posed “Do esters or amines provide better weed control?” The answer to this question is not cut-and-dry. Ester formulations are typically more active on weeds in comparison to amines. This is due to the fact that esters are more soluble when in contact with the plant’s waxy cuticle. Plants are more likely to quickly absorb esters, as amines are more water soluble. Once the chemical is absorbed into the plant (either amine or ester), it is converted to the active acid, which in turn injures or kills plants that are susceptible to the respective herbicide.

As we all know, correct timing is crucial for acceptable weed control. This also comes into play when deciding what formulation to use; ester or amine. During cooler weather (March, April, and early May), ester formulations can be used safely, and typically provide better weed control than amines. As temperatures increase, esters are more prone to volatilization, and a switch should be made to amine formulations if drift is a concern. In warmer temperatures, amines and esters have about the same effect on weed control. Some esters are also “hot”, and can injure grasses when temperatures are too warm. Most herbicide labels list a temperature range in which they should be used, so be sure to follow these recommendations.

In conclusion, it is clear that both amines and esters have their place in weed control programs. Depending on the time of year, location, weed pressure, and application technique, you can safely use different formulations of an herbicide to achieve acceptable weed control. Consider using ester formulations in the early spring, for hard-to-control weeds, or for spot spraying small areas. When blanket spraying large areas, think about nearby vegetable growers, gardens, landscape plantings, trees, and temperatures before making any decisions.

As with any herbicide application, wind speed and direction should also be monitored. No herbicide should be applied when wind can move an herbicide to non-target plants. Always read product labels, and adhere to manufacturer recommendations.

Remember, you are responsible for your chemical applications, so apply them wisely.

— By Tanner Delvalle, Penn State Extension Educator

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