Perhaps no other product category requires as much R&D – as well as time and expense – to bring to market as chemical controls. For the companies that create these products and get them registered, the costs and duration of the work are enormous.

“Developing a brand-new active ingredient (AI) – from when it is discovered to when it is commercialized, produced and launched to the market – is a very long and expensive process,” says Mark Coffelt, head of technical services for turf, ornamental and professional pest management with Syngenta Crop Protection, Greensboro, North Carolina. “The latest estimates show that the costs for R&D of a brand-new chemical active ingredient is $286 million, and on average it takes 10 years,” he says.

Coffelt points out that, with patents in the U.S. lasting just 17 years, companies that develop these products have only seven years to sell and regain the money invested before generics hit the market. This helps to explain why there aren’t a huge number of chemical companies doing discovery and product development. We talked to a few of them to find out what’s involved, what they’re working on, and what superintendents can expect to see in terms of chemical control solutions in the future.

A new generation of AIs

Because of the expense involved, developing a new AI just for the relatively small turf and golf market is typically cost-prohibitive, says Jamie Breuninger, technical leader for turf and ornamentals with Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis. That means most AIs in products developed for fine turf originated in the agriculture segment.

“Fortunately,” Breuninger says, “the major crops – corn, wheat, rice – are all grasses. Therefore, we get a lot of grass-selective products [designed not to injure the crop while controlling a pest] that we can bring into the turf market.”

For Dow, the process of bringing an AI from agriculture to turf would typically begin by looking at what rate is registerable, and then testing it internally at research farms. An agricultural fungicide, for example, might be tested at different rates on turfgrass dollar spot to determine efficacy.

Coffelt says that the company is constantly looking for new chemical solutions, screening some 160,000 chemical compounds a year, profiling about 5,000 of those that show promise, and ultimately field-testing about 30 of those compounds.

“By the time we get the best analog, the best chemistry, it’s down to one product that will be launched into the market,” he explains.

Fortunately, it’s not always necessary to develop a completely new AI to address a new pest, and much of the R&D work centers around existing AIs. “If we already have an existing AI that’s already in the market, sometimes all we have to do is tweak the label or tweak the formulation or do some things to enhance it or make it better,” Coffelt says.

Sometimes it’s possible to generate data quickly to show that a reformulation is effective in the field and get a product relabeled – expanding the labeled pests, for example – much more quickly than bringing a new AI to market, he explains.

Specific solutions for the future

Syngenta’s recently launched nematicide, Divanem, is an example of a product that could be brought to market relatively quickly. It is an enhanced formulation of Avid.

“Golf course superintendents came to us and said that they needed a solution for controlling nematodes,” explains Stephanie Schwenke, turf market manager with Syngenta. The company was able to develop an enhanced formulation of Avid, a product that was already on the market at the time, and special-use labels were granted in a number of states before a federal label was required.

Divanem was formally brought on the market early in 2017. “We are still working to get the product registered in California and possibly even New York,” Schwenke says. “And we’re now working to add a new nematode species to meet the needs of superintendents in California.”

While unable to disclose specifics or names of additional products that Syngenta may be developing at this time, Schwenke was able to say that Syngenta continues to work on and invest in new control solutions that will be available to the golf turf market in the next five years. Asked for one area that might be a particular focus, she identified products that may be able to help superintendents with water management.

Breuninger says Dow has applied for EPA registration for two new products applicable to the golf turf market that it hopes will be on the market by the fall of 2018. The first is Relzar, a herbicide for the Southern turf market that promises both good safety and efficacy on harder-to-control weeds such as doveweed.

The other is GameOn, designed more for use on cool-season grasses, as well as bermudagrass and Zoysia grass. “That will be a nice product for control of a lot of different weeds, primarily in the rough area. Relzar can be used on the fairway, but GameOn wouldn’t be used on turf cut lower than a half-inch,” Breuninger explains. “GameOn gives really good knockdown of broadleaf weeds and will give more complete control than existing products.” Dow emphasizes that Relzar and GameOn have not yet received regulatory approvals; approvals are pending.

Jim Goodrich, product manager for fungicides and insecticides with PBI-Gordon in Kansas City, Missouri, says his company has made a concerted effort to expand its fungicide line to better meet the needs of golf course superintendents. That really began with the addition of Segway (cyazofamid for Pythium) and Kabuto to the PBI-Gordon lineup in the last several years. Kabuto (isofetamid) was aimed mainly at dollar spot, the most common fungus for many golf superintendents, but it was also very effective for spring dead spot.

“That led us to look at what we could do to Kabuto to improve its overall spectrum,” Goodrich says. That is one avenue R&D can take: using an existing AI to see what else it might be effective against when combined with other ingredients.

That has led to a PBI-Gordon product called Tekken that, at press time, was slated to be launched soon and uses the proprietary AI isofetamid in combination with an older AI, tebuconazole. Tekken is a FRAC Group 7 plus 3 flowable suspension concentrate.

“What we’ve seen with Tekken is that, by combining the two, we’re seeing extended control in areas that maybe both products didn’t do as well by themselves. And then we’re also seeing a lot broader spectrum for both of those products,” Goodrich says. “It covers 21 diseases, including the top diseases for golf course superintendents: dollar spot, anthracnose and leaf patch.”

Goodrich says early work has begun to expand the company’s presence in the fungicide market. While it’s too early to comment specifically on those products, he says PBI-Gordon’s proprietary research shows that some of the biggest challenges for superintendents include fairy spot and summer patch.

“So we’re trying to figure out ways that we can address the specific needs that superintendents have. They may have products that ‘sort of’ control these products, but they still want a better solution, and that’s our goal,” he says.

Jay Young, herbicide product manager with PBI-Gordon, says the company has some new herbicides for the golf turf market that will be introduced within the next five years. While it’s too soon for the company to talk about the specifics of these products, Young does say the company “will have some information available in the first quarter of 2018 about a product that will be coming to market at the end of next year, that contains a new, novel active ingredient to the turf industry.”

Considerations for R&D

A new AI is a big deal, Young says. “I think one really big challenge right now for the turf industry, and especially golf course superintendents and lawn care operators, is the issue of resistance outpacing the manufacturers’ [ability to bring] new active ingredients to the market,” he says. “Resistance is becoming more and more of an issue as weed pressures evolve and change; therefore, superintendents are looking for new, novel concepts to help combat their weed pressures.

“We have to really maximize what we have currently through a sound rotation program – making sure that superintendents are rotating their herbicide chemistries, similar to what you’d see in a fungicide program – and some of these new active ingredients will definitely help to offset some of the resistance issues that are out there currently,” Young says.

Another huge issue is the shift in weather patterns. “We’re seeing weeds that were primarily an issue in maybe one geographical part of the country becoming serious issues in other parts of the country,” Young says.

From an herbicide R&D standpoint, this needs to be taken into consideration. Just because a product is controlling a weed in one part of the country doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be equally effective in another part of the country. It requires additional testing.

Another goal for chemical manufacturers is to gain the efficacy that end-users want with lower AI loads going into the products. “We’re getting effective control and really reducing our impact from the standpoint of how much AI is going out,” Young says. “That is another technological trend that is exciting to see.”

“The rates are just so much lower” on new active ingredients coming into the market, Dow’s Breuninger says. He cites a new AI in a recently released Dow herbicide; the AI rate is less than 5 grams per acre. As the rates get lower, the environmental impact is also decreasing.

In addition to more obvious factors like efficacy, broad-spectrum control and lower AI rates, manufacturers are also looking at just about every aspect of improving the chemical’s safety and ease of use.

That even includes the development of new packaging technologies. One of Syngenta’s latest packing inventions, for example, is currently being launched with its fungicide, Headway G.

“It’s being launched in new 30-pound bags with new features that provide easier handling,” Schwenke explains. “The bag sits up straight and it has gusset handles. These are new features, and we’re the first to have these available in the turf market,” she says.

There are other operational factors that R&D looks at to determine how well a product will work in the real world. Dow’s new GameOn is rainfast after two hours, and Relzar is rainfast after just one hour.

“That’s a distinct advantage over products that take four or six hours,” Breuninger says. Similarly, manufacturers are continually looking for low-odor solutions when developing new products. Golfers and superintendents don’t want a lot of smelly products out on the course. Relzar, for example, has almost zero odor.

Products that mix easily and don’t plug nozzles is another primary R&D concern, because such products are easier to use in the field and provide more even coverage, making the product more effective.

“We look at everything from an end-user perspective,” Breuninger says. “When superintendents tell us they have a specific problem, we’re out there trying to solve that problem.”

For chemical companies, the R&D process never ends. Even years after a product is registered, it often must go through a re-registration process that requires more testing and more data – which takes more time and money, Schwenke points out.

“And based on whatever new methodology the EPA is using, it may require us to change uses for a particular product and a particular label,” she says.

“That’s a process that continually goes on; even beyond making new products, we have to make sure that we can keep the registrations in place for the products that we’ve had in the markets for 20 or more years.”