A new survey shows acceptance of plant health concept but not all superintendents understand that BASF Intrinsic brand fungicides are excellent at fighting turf stress.
By Pat Jones
It’s been more than a decade since the dawn of the plant health era of turfgrass science. In short order, each of the major manufacturers – including BASF – introduced products labeled to help fight abiotic stress along with the diseases they were meant to target.
Some supers saw the value right away, some gradually embraced it, and some still seemed skeptical. But how has that understanding evolved along the way and where does acceptance stand today? It seemed like a perfect time to do some research to find out where the role of turfgrass products with enhanced plant health stands in 2022.
In September, I created and fielded a survey to measure attitudes about plant health components in today’s fungicides. In just a few days, 130 superintendents from around the U.S. provided their candid opinions and lots of specific feedback.
The “added value” of plant health components is now widely accepted. When we asked them how they defined plant health, nearly 70% agreed with this statement: “It's something built into the product that strengthens the plant's internal ability to withstand stresses beyond the disease.”
For some, it’s something tangible. Another 17% associated plant health with better color, rooting or vigor.
Most feel confident in the concept now. After years of experience with plant health fungicides, only about 13% still weren’t sure about the value.
The greatest value they perceive is the ability to help counter abiotic stress as it combats the disease. More than 80% agreed with this statement: “Plant health means greater resilience, so my turf can handle stress and recover better.”
This is all great news for superintendents -- who now feel more confident in this technology – but it’s also validation for the concept of combining plant health with plant protection in turf fungicides. What really matters – to the supers who responded to the survey and to you – is what the science behind all this says.
“Intrinsic brand fungicides were the first to be labeled for plant health more than a decade ago and today’s superintendents recognize and trust that now more than ever,” says Jeff Vannoy, BASF senior product manager
The Intrinsic brand fungicides, including Lexicon®, Navicon® Honor® and Insignia® have become foundational products for leading superintendents, particularly those using the BASF Holiday Spray Program. They outperform the field in terms of disease management, but superintendents have come to value them for making turf more resilient to abiotic stresses of all kinds.
And the science backs that up. “We’ve continued to study how Intrinsic brand fungicides help build turf’s defenses against stresses like heat, drought and traffic,” says Kyle Miller, BASF senior technical specialist. “We know that our active ingredient (pyraclostrobin) is what is responsible for the plant health that we see. It’s very different than adding a pigment or another ingredient to the formulation. It’s an intrinsic property of the fungicide molecule itself. That’s why the name Intrinsic was so fitting.”
Miller cites the science behind the process to differentiate between plant health effects. “Intrinsic brand fungicides create physiological processes in the plant that promote stress protection, improved rooting and an overall healthier plant.”
BASF has studied how and how much Intrinsic brand fungicides benefit the plant in “trial upon trial upon trial” according to Miller. “The results consistently show reduced canopy temperatures from heat, reduced wilting from drought, improved tolerance to cold temperatures, improved recovery from aerification, improved ability to maintain turf quality in a shaded environment, improved rooting at sodding or sprigging time.”
Miller says it all comes down to its ability to conserve energy compared to other products:
“It slows down respiration in the plant, burns less photosynthate and funnels that extra energy to the root system. A stronger root system leads to healthier turf, especially during stressful times. Improved rooting is a big part of what we see but there are numerous other physiological processes which are affected which also reduce stress to the turf.”
Miller is quick to agree other fungicides have plant health effects too. But he maintains that the Intrinsic products do it at a more “holistic” or “core” level because it is affecting the physiology of the plant in so many ways.
“That means that before, during, and after stress is the right time to use Intrinsic brand fungicides in a spray program,” says Miller. “That’s the fundamental approach behind the BASF Holiday Spray Program and why so many superintendents trust these brands as foundational products.”
We turned to the university scientist who did much of the original testing on Intrinsic brand fungicides, Dr. Bruce Martin, to get his perspective after studying the products for years.
How have Intrinsic brand fungicides been shown to help turf withstand abiotic stresses like heat, drought and traffic?
In my direct experience we showed that just two sprays of Insignia Intrinsic brand fungicide in a disease control program was consistently better at improving turf quality vs competing strobilurins at identical application timing on bentgrass during South Carolina summers from hell. The same trial three years in a row showed similar and significant improvements in quality.
BASF also observed benefits to drought tolerance in fairways of sprayed vs non-sprayed Tifway at Farmlinks when Brian Thompson was superintendent there. And experiments at the University of Tennessee and at Clemson demonstrated improved drought tolerance. BASF also demonstrated accelerated healing of aerification holes with Insignia years ago.
How would you compare Intrinsic brand fungicides to the other plant health additives?
Intrinsic is fundamentally different from either Stressgard or the Action products. The fungicide itself, pyraclostrobin, induces physiological effects in treated plants, including anti-oxidant effects, reduction of respiration and other benefits.
Reduction in respiration amounts to a conservation of carbohydrates in the plant, which can be beneficial under stressful situations where the plants may burn carbohydrates faster than photosynthesis can replace them. In some cases, this can lead to reduction in root depth and volume. These effects help explain the real-world benefits we see from Intrinsic in the field under various scenarios that superintendents experience every day.
Both Stressgard and Action products include an added component, and both have demonstrated plant health benefits. In the case of Stressgard, the pigments involved do filter harmful wavelengths of light that promote oxidative stress to plants. Lessening this stress also results in conservation of carbohydrates.
Acibenzolar, the active in Action fungicides works by promoting a SAR reaction (systemic acquired resistance) in treated plants and this trigger promotes the production of host resistance mechanisms that essentially act as natural fungicides. These effects last about 14 days at most in experiments I have seen.
Fundamentally, why is it important to a spray program to have a component like Intrinsic built into your fungicides?
In my opinion, these fungicides add a benefit beyond excellent disease control and, notably, those benefits should not be affected by fungicide resistance issues that can be problematic in most modern fungicides. It really comes down to good, sustained turf quality in the context of turf performance. Pyraclostrobin itself is an excellent broad-spectrum fungicide and that fact is fundamental to its benefits. The “intrinsic” beneficial effects on plant physiology beyond disease control are icing on the cake.
I followed up with a few of the superintendents from the survey to find out how they perceive Intrinsic brands in terms of handling abiotic stresses.
Jim Roney of Pennsylvania’s legendary Saucon Valley CC says he relies on the Intrinsic brand fungicides whenever stress is a factor. “These additional benefits offer a significant value to the agronomic program. They must be used properly, meaning ahead of any breakouts in a preventative program. The true benefit of the products is in the health of the turf. Healthy turf offers the best defense to all maladies.”
Roney also says he can eyeball the results. “I believe the benefits of the Intrinsic line offers not only visible turf appearance but extends the activity of the A.I., thus reducing applications.”
In the tough environment of northern California, David Major of Canyon Oaks CC has counted on Lexicon Intrinsic brand fungicide – and its stress-fighting abilities – for years. “It’s like it turns on the plant’s self-defense mechanisms. That benefits the entire turf program.”
Like many, he loves Lexicon Intrinsic brand fungicide. “I’ve been a superintendent since 1984 and Lexicon is the best fungicide that I have used in my career. It’s excellent before aerification and I always see excellent response on greens after application. I like the 28-day coverage as well. It’s not cheap but it’s worth it for my most important acreage on the course.”
How much does Jake Wentz of the Verandah Club in Ft. Myers, Fla., appreciate Intrinsic brand fungicides? He took the time to get back to me during the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ian and said this: “Intrinsic is very valuable to a place like ours that has a lot of golf and extreme weather conditions.” Enough said!
Finally, Patrick Lewis, Sierra Star GC, summed it up why he uses Intrinsic brand fungicides: “Plant health is everything. From stress tolerance to enhanced rooting and tillering. Every advantage I can use to get the best conditions makes my life easier.”
Always read and follow label directions. Honor, Lexicon, Intrinsic, and Insignia are registered trademarks of BASF.