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Crop Science Formulations 2020

28 September 2020

New report profiles latest crop protection formulations and technological developments

IHS Markit Crop Science's Formulations 2020 is concerned with the formulation of crop protection products, in particular the features of the commercially important formulation types in the market. We also examine the products and companies active in formulation in this market and review the latest technological developments via the available patent and academic literature.

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To learn more about crop formulations and technological developemnts take a look at our short video presentation below.

In Chapter One "Introduction to Crop Protection Products and their Formulation", we define the scope of the report and of formulation itself. We also summarise the objectives of formulation and briefly introduce the main formulation types used for crop protection products. We summarise the trends in the market which have an impact on developments in formulation before providing a summary of some main points from the previous report in this series (2016) as well as of the significant changes which have taken place since its publication.

The global market for conventional crop protection products (excluding sales of herbicide tolerant and insect resistant seed, as well as non-crop agrochemicals) is estimated to have decreased marginally, falling by 0.8% in 2019 to $59,827 million; when measured in real terms (excluding the impact of inflation and currency factors) the overall market is estimated to have experienced a more significant decrease, down by 5.8% on the previous year. This figure is based on the results of our own PMD market analysis of the crop protection sector and takes into account the results of market research conducted in the majority of country markets.

In 2019, weather played the most significant part in influencing the global agrochemical market with extremes from severe flooding in North America to dry conditions and drought across major areas of Europe and Asia Pacific, equally detrimental to demand of crop protection products. In addition, tensions between the governments of the USA and China also shifted global trade patterns, with China replacing US produce, particularly soybeans, with those from Latin American countries. Other factors limiting prospects for the 2019 agrochemical market include increasing regulatory pressures in Europe leading to the ban of notable chemistries and strength in the US dollar, which limited growth potential elsewhere.

On a more positive note, and somewhat offsetting the declines outlined above were the continued high pricing levels for generic products, particularly those emanating from Chinese manufacturers; further growth in Latin America in response to normalised inventory levels; as well as increasing adoption of alternative GM traits, shifting demand away from glyphosate tolerance and into newer and more expensive herbicide technologies such as glufosinate, dicamba and 2,4-D.

As for non-crop agrochemicals, the market is estimated to have grown by around 3.5%, largely in line with global GDP growth. This market can continue to grow in the coming years boosted by improving economies in developing nations.

Chapter Two is entitled "Formulation Types: Overview and Applications". A very wide variety of formulation types are available to the formulator to choose from when designing and developing new formulations. Apart from regulatory considerations, the most important factors which the formulator must consider at the start of development are the intended application method as well as the physical and chemical properties of the active ingredient. These two factors alone are likely narrow the possible formulation types to a manageable number for further consideration. Further factors will then come into play including costs, availability of manufacturing assets, packaging compatibility, safety and environmental protection.

Once the preferred formulation type has been chosen and development has begun, the formulators key challenges are likely to be related to optimising the stability of the formulation and maintaining the target efficacy under application conditions. The processing equipment for manufacture will need to be chosen and laboratory conditions will have to be scaled up. Other application properties that also need to be considered include product redispersibility and flow properties. The main choices at this stage will be which co-formulants to use and which processing conditions should be used.

Regulatory considerations and restrictions have to be considered at all stages of the process. Restrictions may include limitations or prohibition of certain formulants and regulators are likely to require a comprehensive dossier detailing the properties of the final formulation.

In Chapter Three "Formulation Types: Market View", we focus on the relative significance of the different formulation types in the market and detail the most significant formulation types by value and by volume. The most significant formulation types by value in the crop protection market are SC (suspension concentrate), EC (emulsifiable concentrate), SL (soluble liquid concentrate), WG (water dispersible granule) and WP (wettable powder).

Measured by volume, SL formulations are relatively more significant and WG and WP formulations less so. This is due to the relatively high AI strength (and unit price) of WG and WP formulations and to the importance of glyphosate and other herbicides formulated as relatively low-cost SL formulations. SL and EC formulations are the most important formulation types for herbicides, whereas SC and EC dominate for value by fungicides and insecticides.

In Chapter Four we take a close look at emulsifiable concentrate (EC) formulations. Emulsifiable concentrates are a popular format with significant sales in all pesticide fields of use. Although their demise has been predicted for a while, there is no evidence that their market share will reduce for quite some time. There are moves to look for newer solvent systems but aromatic solvents still appear in both literature and newer patents.

Mixtures of actives are the subject of much interest both commercial and academic and this is leading to an increase in complexity of the formulation. Whilst there is some evidence of research looking to move actives and their mixtures away from the format, there are also examples where its' simplicity in manufacture and reduced costs can lead to movement from more complicated systems such as capsule suspensions.

In Chapter Five we move on to suspension concentrate (SC) formulations. Suspension concentrates are a popular format with significant sales in all pesticide fields of use. Due to being water based, the format will be a preferred choice when starting a development programme with a new active, so long as the properties of the active ingredient are suitable (i.e. low water stability and melting point greater than room temperature).

As with other formulations much activity is focussed on blends of actives and the formulation technology associated with this. The most factor to consider when formulating for stability is the choice and level of dispersant. Academic literature and patent activity are dominated by China.

Chapter Six takes a look at another popular format, soluble liquids (SL). Despite the apparent simplicity of the formulation, Soluble Liquids (SL) are one of the most significant commercial formulation types. They are dominated by herbicides and the major actives such as glyphosate, glufosinate, dicamba, and 2,4-D. Due to being water based, the format will be a preferred choice when starting a development programme with a new active, so long as the properties of the active ingredient are suitable (i.e. high solubility and hydrolytic stability).

In terms of formulation, the salt type is key to achieving the high active content required in commercial formulations and this can also aid with other properties such as minimising spray drift. This function (spray drift control) is very topical at present and the subject of much debate, particularly in the US. Other formulation additives included in formulations are surfactants and adjuvants to aid with leaf wetting and penetration.

As with other formulations there is much activity is focussed on blends of actives and the formulation technology associated with this. With the high-profile actives in this format, the formulation impact on toxicity and the environment is becoming more critical. Patent and academic activity is not necessarily focussed on the formulation type but more on the active ingredients.

Chapter Seven is a round-up of the other liquid formulation types in the market. In most liquid formulations, herbicides tend to dominate in terms of value and this applies to most of the relatively niche formulation types discussed in this chapter. Those described in this chapter are often regarded as problem solving formulations and although of real scientific interest are often regarded as a "last resort" choice for the formulator. They all, however, have common functionalities in that beside the active(s), they have a continuous medium, stabilisers (surfactants and/or rheology modifiers) and adjuvants to help with application properties.

With increasing challenges from pest resistance and regulators to prevent worker and environmental exposure, we will however see these types increasing in importance but the technical challenge and regulatory costs should not be underestimated.

In Chapter Eight we move onto the solid formulation types and look at wettable powder (WP) formulations. Wettable powder (WP) formulations are relatively simple and cost-effective options which are especially suitable for active ingredients (AIs) which are high melting and water-insoluble solids. Their main disadvantage is that they can generate dust which can be an inhalation hazard. WP formulations are seen across all fields of use (fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and acaricides) with fungicides accounting for over 40% by value of WP formulated products. A number of significant commodity AIs can be formulated as WP, including carbendazim, mancozeb, imidacloprid and bensulfuron. As well as the AI, WP formulations contain fillers, dispersing agents, wetting agents and flow aids. Innovation activity on WP formulations in the last four years has been modest. Comparisons of WP with other formulation types has shown both advantages and disadvantages, depending on both the AI and the application. Only a small number of patents showing innovation in WP formulation have been found. These patents mainly cover biological AIs, where WP is still a common format.

Chapter Nine examines another very significant solid formulation type, water dispersible granules (WG). These are popular formulations which are convenient with good handling properties and safety benefits. Against these benefits must be set the relatively high cost and complexity of producing them. Nevertheless, a wide variety of AIs on the market are produced in the WG format which accounts for about 12% of the crop protection market by value. Around half of WG products by value are herbicides and over 30% by value are herbicides. In contrast to the WP format which is mainly used for lower value generic AIs, WG is used widely for patented specialities and generics alike. WG formulations can be manufactured at a high AI strength and dispersing agents, wetting agents, disintegrants and fillers are the main co-formulants used.

The innovation level (in terms of numbers of academic and patent publications) in WG formulations appears to be quite low, indicating that it is a well-established and largely optimised format.

In Chapter Ten we consider granules for dry application (GR). These formulations are relatively simple and cost effective to make using relatively unsophisticated equipment. Their large particles don't drift when applied and the products don't, in general, generate harmful dust. The ability to provide controlled release properties is a major benefit which can possibly extend the lifetime of the application and reduce overall environmental exposure. The main application by some distance is for rice paddies in Asia where mixed functionality (e.g. insecticide plus fungicide) is often desired, so there are many mixture products containing multiple AIs. Herbicides for rice paddies are also a significant area. Granules can also be applied dry to soil or furrows in which case disintegration properties are important.

There is a moderate amount of innovation in granule formulations, with controlled release properties being the main focus of both academic research and patent applications. A number of such formulations have been commercialised.

Chapter Eleven covers all of the other solid formulation types on the market. There is a wide range of "minor" solid formulation types available for both direct (dry) and spray tank application. The most important of these are dustable powders (DP), soluble powders (SP), soluble granules (SG) and tablets (TB). Soluble granules are analogous to water dispersible granule (WG) formulations with the difference being that in SG products the active ingredient is water soluble and so forms a true solution rather than a dispersion. Likewise, SP formulations are similar in form and use to wettable powder (WP) formulations. Dustable powders are used for direct application, often aerial (crop dusting). Sulphur is a common fungicide which is formulated as DP.

There is a relatively small amount of patent or academic literature in the field of these minor types, which is consistent with their value in the market.

In Chapter Twelve, "Special Topic: Biocontrol Formulations", we examine a commercially fast-growing topic. The market for biocontrol agents is expected to grow considerably over the foreseeable future. A key element in continuing this growth will be the global regulatory procedures relating to the approval of biocontrol products. As individual actives are often very specific, then the market can be small in comparison to more conventional pesticide actives and therefore the regulatory costs are even more significant in making the business case to commercialise a biocontrol product.

Whilst the "Holy Grail" for those developing and promoting the use of biocontrol products is the complete replacement of chemical pesticides, this is unlikely to occur in the short to medium term and there are signs within the market that the combination of biocontrol products with more conventional products is gaining traction. For commercial reasons, recognising the threat/opportunity from biocontrol products some of the major chemical pesticide producers have started to promote combined treatments. As well as these combination products we are expecting to see more regulation, better use of adjuvants and co-formulants and an alignment to the other drivers of smart agriculture. Formulation will be key to meeting growth expectations and will follow mainly the same path as that for conventional plant protection products with the exception that the changes are likely to be much quicker.

Chapter Thirteen takes a look at another special topic, that of seed treatment formulations. There are a large number of potential seed treatment formulation types but DS (dry powder), WS (water dispersible powder), LS (liquid solution) and FS (flowable concentrate) are the most commercially important types. The formulations of these closely resemble the mainstream crop protection formulations described elsewhere this report, i.e. WP, WP, SL and SC. Most synthetic actives formulated as seed treatments are either insecticides or fungicides. Formulants used in seed treatments also resemble those used in mainstream crop protection formulations, e.g. anionic and non-ionic surfactants, glycol antifreeze/humectants, mineral carriers/fillers and oily stickers.

There is a moderate amount of innovation activity as evidenced by patents and other publications and this appears to be focused mainly on formulations of biocontrol actives (mainly microbials) and combinations of these with synthetic actives. Biostimulant and nutrient formulations are also represented. There is also a steady series of innovations in the area of novel formulants (e.g. polymers, rheology modifiers, fillers) for seed treatments. Novel methods such as encapsulation have also been described.

Chapter Fourteen consists of a review of the main companies involved in crop protection formulation, whether as producers of formulated products or as members of the supply chain providing co-formulants or services. The major crop protection companies all maintain a high level of capability in formulation. The products launched appear in most of the main formulation types although liquids (especially SC and EC) appear to dominate.

The supply chain for formulation includes the specialty chemicals divisions of many diversified multinational chemical companies as well as a number of smaller players. Although formulants such as surfactants and rheology modifiers can be used in many different industries, it is significant that a number of these suppliers do highlight their use in agrochemicals and offer expertise and recommendations specifically for formulators in those markets. The supply chain for formulation is also populated by a large number of service providers, in particular contract manufacturing companies but also by companies providing laboratory formulation development services. There is no sign of these service providers reducing in number in recent years which indicates the demand for outsourced services remains strong.

In the final chapter, we take a brief look into the future to comment on trends in formulation and where they could lead. It is to be expected that many of today's market trends and drivers will continue to be important in future years. In particular drivers relating to regulations, environmental acceptability and safety will remain strong. These drivers will result in incremental changes of the sort we are already familiar with. On the other hand, the potential for the most radical changes in the way pesticides are used (and which could have an impact on the way they are formulated) is likely to come from disruptive technologies which are already starting to be applied in and outside the field of agriculture. Exactly what this means for agrochemical formulation remains to be seen but most of these developments would move the market towards more customisation of products, smaller volumes, robust and concentrated formulations, higher flexibility and more precision - and away from traditional bulk volume spray tank application. In particular, there is exciting potential in emerging technologies that can:

• Integrate sensors, data management and artificial intelligence;

• Deploy precision application via automation and robotics;

• Make use of better understanding of biological and in particular genetic mechanisms.

Other more disruptive approaches may arise from within the industry itself such as microwaves and lasers that can be used to destroy pests without the use of pesticides, or "vertical farming" approaches that would allow crops to be grow without pesticides, or with much lower amounts. That companies involved in agriculture are prepared to invest in novel approaches is evidenced by venture investment decisions.

About the Authors

iFormulate ( was founded to provide customised R&D and innovation services to companies working in the field of Formulation Science and Technology. They offer consultancy, project management, idea generation and development, assistance with commercialisation, market and business development, training and events. They have written several previous reports for IHS Markit Crop Science (Agrow) including Bioformulations and Sustainability in Agrochemicals.

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