Regulation is a four-letter word to many in the agricultural industry. Still, when the topic of adjuvant use is brought up among crop protection experts, the discussion often turns to regulation.

Many experts say adjuvants should be regulated to protect growers' weed control outcomes and reputable suppliers' profits.

“I think regulation is needed,” says Chris Stickler, manager of technical services and product support for Loveland Products, Inc. “There are fly-by-night outfits that jug it (an adjuvant) up and sell it, and it may not work. Regulation of adjuvants would provide a measure of protection for growers by removing non-functioning or poorly functioning products from the market.”

Loveland manufactures and sells adjuvants, including a new drift-control system called Shear Guard Technology, available in Liberate, Valid and Weather Gard products.

Adjuvants are non-herbicidal additives that corn and soybean growers routinely use in crop production. North Carolina State University research says the primary function for adjuvants is to “modify the physical nature of herbicides or herbicide spray solutions to help improve plant coverage, product uptake and, ultimately, provide better weed control.”

Literally, hundreds of adjuvants are available to growers, and such products are broad in scope. Surfactants, spreaders, drift-control agents and crop oils can all qualify as adjuvants.

The sheer number of adjuvants available creates congestion and confusion in the marketplace. The result: an educational quagmire, particularly among growers who make their own herbicide applications. Many simply shy away from adjuvant use because they don't know whether to believe the various manufacturer claims about performance of such products, which range in cost from $1 to $2.50/acre to use.

Bryan Young, Southern Illinois University weed control specialist, says manufacturers have a responsibility to make scientific results available to growers to back up any product claims.

“It's important to be able to demonstrate adjuvant effects with test results and hard data, not just testimonials,” he says. “Large manufacturers and retailers usually believe these products should be regulated. Smaller companies usually do not agree, but the problem is they can't always demonstrate the performance of their products because of the costs involved.”

The question then becomes, whose responsibility is it for the regulation of adjuvants?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the responsibility is not theirs. “There's no regulatory motivation for EPA to get involved,” says Don Baumgartner, life scientist for the EPA Region Five office in Chicago.

Baumgartner explains that under the terms of FIFRA, the EPA regulates pesticides, which are defined as “substances produced to repel, destroy or mitigate a pest.” Adjuvants, on the other hand, are considered inert by the EPA, meaning these products do not contain the active ingredients actually intended to control a pest and, therefore, are not pesticides.

“If we've decided a substance poses no risk to food, that's the end of our role,” says Jim Roelofs, EPA state liaison officer for the office of pesticide programs and toxic substances in Washington, D.C. “Under this circumstance, we have no lever.”

Roelofs adds that, in his opinion, adjuvants pose more of a quality assurance concern for the agricultural industry rather than a regulatory concern.

Ray McAllister agrees. McAllister works as regulatory policy leader for Croplife America, a national organization that represents the manufacturers, distributors and formulators of chemical products. He recommends that growers consult with herbicide manufacturers before using an adjuvant if they question its efficacy.

“If I was concerned about adjuvant selection, I would ask the herbicide manufacturer, ‘How do I choose the right adjuvant — one that will work with this herbicide,’ ” he says.

McAllister adds that Croplife America is not prepared as an organization to regulate adjuvant products. However, he says, “It's certainly worthy of more discussion.”