Despite a rainy spring, the 2008 potato season was dominated by headlines on rocketing fuel and fertilizer costs, not reports of Rhizoctonia or Fusarium. But protecting today's huge investment in planting costs makes a strong case for a powerful seed piece treatment, even when disease pressure turns out to be low.
That's especially true because only hindsight is 20/20.
"You may not know what your problems may be until you're having them," warns Phil Nolte, extension professor of seed potato pathology at the University of Idaho's Idaho Falls Research and Extension Center.
"Things like Fusarium dry rot, which can cause stand loss and performance problems if it gets bad enough, are not necessarily a seasonal thing. It may not even look like your seed lot is all that bad. You may not even know you have it until you've got it planted."
Potato vines produce uniform tubers when stands are uniform, so low-vigor vines and spotty stands caused by insect or disease pressure or other agronomic problems can result in misshapen and poor quality tubers.
As vines grow, foliar insects such as Colorado potato beetles and aphids pose a significant threat-both in terms of yield loss and the bottom-line impact of the high cost of foliar insecticide application.
ELIMINATING FOLIAR APPLICATIONS
In three years of using CruiserMaxx Potato-a premix of thiamethoxam insecticide (the active ingredient in Cruiser), fludioxonil fungicide (the active ingredient in Maxim) and a proprietary drying agent-Bart Wattenbarger of Shelley, Idaho, says he's been able to avoid foliar insecticide treatments for Colorado potato beetles and aphids on his 1,400 to 1,500 acres of full-season fresh market potatoes.
"Once we started with CruiserMaxx Potato, we didn't have to spray for beetles anymore-we got season-long control," Wattenbarger says.
"I've had some spots in the field where we've done some tests. We've planted a load or load-and-a-half in the field without the CruiserMaxx Potato. The beetles will just attack those untreated plants, but the six rows on either side don't have a single beetle."
Near Wendell, Idaho, Greg Hirai says avoiding aerial insecticide application is about more than saving money.
"We have a lot of non-potato-farming neighbors surrounding our potato fields-dairies and housing, things like that," Hirai explains.
"We were getting to a point where we were getting uncomfortable spraying insecticides around animals. Airplanes are also extremely visible, and people have a lot of preconceived notions of what you're doing. We were looking for something we could do that was safer, simpler and more effective."
Applying CruiserMaxx Potato liquid seed piece treatment is "all done right at the cellar, you don't have to have any extra equipment on the planters, and everything is done at one central location," Hirai adds. "There are no issues of freezing outside, or of mixing in the field."
SMALL RATE, BIG RESULTS
CruiserMaxx Potato is applied at a slurry rate of four fluid ounces per cwt of cut seed pieces, notes Kiran Shetty, Syngenta Seed Care technical manager. The rate delivers just enough volume to provide thorough coverage of the seed pieces without adding a significant amount of free moisture to the seed surface, Shetty says.
The special drying agent in the formulation dries treated seed pieces well to ensure proper wound healing of the cut tubers.
Many growers, including Wattenbarger, also apply a bark dust after the CruiserMaxx Potato is applied.
"It's simple and it works great," Wattenbarger says of his Milestone seed treatment applicator. "We put a 6 percent mancozeb bark dust on after, which helps the dust adhere better to the potato, keeping the potato seed well-protected."
"The fludioxonil in CruiserMaxx Potato protects against fungi such as Rhizoctonia, Fusarium and Helminthosporium, the causal agent of silver scurf, right away, before the seed piece even begins creating a protective suberized layer," Shetty points out.
"The thiamethoxam in the product starts out protecting seed pieces against wireworms that may attack the seed pieces and then as the plant begins to grow the material moves into growing tissue to protect vines against Colorado potato beetles, aphids, leaf hoppers, flea beetles and many other foliar insects."
PROTECTING THE INVESTMENT
Though some growers were wary of liquid seed treatments at first, Nolte says, "it could become the norm, especially with issues about worker safety and dust."
Seed piece treatment, too, is becoming the norm, especially as so many other variables in the potato business are anything but normal.
No matter where diesel or fertilizer costs go, what Mother Nature throws at growers this spring or who moves into the property next door, the pressure is on to make every seed piece count-as efficiently as possible, right from day one.
"It's one of those situations where you have to make a decision about whether you're going to protect your seed," says Nolte. "We're still not at a point where we can predict what's going to happen. Seed piece treatments are cheap insurance."
Editor's note: Important: Always read and follow label instructions before buying or using this product. CruiserMaxx Potato is not labeled for application to potato seed pieces in New York. CruiserMaxx is a trademark of a Syngenta Group Company.