AgBiTech's Heligen bioinsecticide applied to half-million US acres for corn earworm control in 2020
Apr. 21, 2021
In 2020, farmers across the southern United States applied Heligen bioinsecticide to more than 500,000 acres to control corn earworm (Helicoverpa Zea), one of the most troublesome pests in the region. The majority of Heligen applications were in soybeans and sorghum.
Fully introduced to the United States in 2018, Heligen is an efficient, economical and environmentally friendly tool that helps control corn earworm and mitigate yield loss. The rapid growth of Heligen in the market demonstrates that row crop growers are ready to adopt environmentally friendly bioinsecticides when they are presented with products that address their needs at a competitive price.
“Crop consultants and farmers are really embracing Heligen and this type of emerging technology,” said Paula Marҫon, chief technology officer for AgBiTech. “Product performance and strong university validation were paramount in reaching the half-million acres milestone in 2020.”
AgBiTech anticipates the rapid growth and adoption of Heligen will accelerate in 2021.
“We are expecting to double our footprint with Heligen and reach one million acres in 2021 due to the excellent results farmers and crop consultants are seeing, not to count the new products we are bringing to market this year,” said Marcos Castro, vice president of sales and marketing for AgBiTech.
The challenge of corn earworm
According to the Mississippi Entomological Association, corn earworm was the second most damaging pest for soybeans in 2019, responsible for more than $102 million in cost plus bushels lost in the Mid-South alone.
With increasing resistance to pyrethroids, corn earworm is becoming more difficult to control. Heligen brings a new mode of action, making it very effective on corn earworm that has become resistant to chemical insecticides. As a Group 31 baculovirus-based insecticide, Heligen selectively infects corn earworm with a fatal viral disease that spreads quickly throughout the canopy for long-lasting control.
“Corn earworm is capable of reducing yield much greater than any other insects because it feeds on the fruit, blooms and pods,” said Gus Lorenz, Extension entomologist at the University of Arkansas. “If they’re left unchecked, there can easily be 25 to 30 percent yield reduction and much higher than that in those situations where we don’t provide season-long control.”
In sorghum, corn earworm is better known as headworm and can cause significant damage, if left uncontrolled. According to Kansas State University, headworms can cause up to five percent yield loss per worm per head.
“We’re always looking for a control tactic that’s going to give us some kind of residual control, which is what we like about Heligen,” said Lorenz. “We’ve seen it in the fields 45 to 60 days after application and that’s a big advantage for our growers.”
An economical, environmentally friendly approach
When proactively applied to target corn earworm at first appearance, Heligen is a low-cost, high-return investment that helps to reduce damage and protect yield. The bioinsecticide fits well into integrated pest management programs as a tank mix or standalone application. It leaves no residue after application and poses no negative environmental or ecological impact and is also safe on beneficial insects.
Jared Gregory, a sorghum grower from Kansas, used Heligen for the first time in 2020. Even as a first-time user, Gregory applied Heligen to all of his acres and was impressed with its selectivity in controlling headworm.
“The best thing about the product [Heligen] is the fact that you get to keep the beneficials there, which helps control sugar cane aphid,” said Gregory. “It was awesome, seeing the beneficials there and then seeing the headworms die. We saw great benefits and return on investment using it last year.”
Adam Chappell, a soybean farmer from Cotton Plant, Arkansas, used Heligen the past couple of growing seasons. He noted tank mix compatibility and long-lasting control as key benefits the bioinsecticide offers.
“It’s just a huge value for us being able to go out and piggyback it [Heligen] with an application we were already making. It saves us a trip and we get season-long control in most cases,” said Chappell. “And then, of course, the cost of the product is less than the other options on the market. As a grower, it’s been a huge gain as far as profitability for us to use that product over any of the others.”
When using Heligen as a tank mix partner with insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or fertilizers, it is a best practice to add an acidifier to ensure the pH is below 8.0 and time the application when small larvae are present. The result is an ideal combination that introduces the virus in the crop at no additional application cost, saving both time and money.
“Anytime you are paying for a pass over the field, we’re always trying to get the best bang for the buck. Whether it’s herbicide or fungicide, it’s really an open playing field to help bump the yield as long as you keep the pH in check,” said Caleb Wall, general manager of Lawrence County Seed in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. “I always recommend Heligen because of the cost per acre and residual effects. It’s less than half the cost of a typical synthetic and it stays in the field longer. There’s just a lot of good benefits to it.”
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