This article was co-written with Mike Cowbrough, OMAFRA Weed Management Specialist – Field Crops
In Canada, users of commercial class pest control products for crop protection or vegetation management are permitted to apply unlabeled tank mixes of registered pest control products as long as:
- Each partner is registered for use on the crop.
- The tank mix only includes an adjuvant when specifically required by one of the mix partners.
- The application timing of each partner is compatible with crop and pest staging.
- No partner is specifically excluded on any other partner label.
- Each partner is used according to the product label.
Further to the last point, a user can tank mix products when only a single label specifies (or requires) the tank mix. For example, say Herbicide A’s label requires the addition of Herbicide B. However, Herbicide B’s label says nothing about tank mixing. Users that tank mix A and B according to label A are in compliance. This situation tends to arise when the two tank mix partners are owned by different registrants.
- Efficiency: If the timing makes sense, a single pass saves time and reduces trample/compaction. E.g. A “weed-and-feed” application of fertilizer and herbicide in corn.
- Resistance management: Multiple modes of action help prevent resistance development and combat existing problems.
- Improved performance: Labels may require adjuvants to improve spray quality and potency, which enhances performance. However, in Canada, unlabelled adjuvants are not permitted in tank mixes. See below.
Tank mixing adjuvants
Adjuvants are outside the scope of Canada’s federal policy on unlabeled tank mixes. The label for at least one tank mix partner must specify the use of an adjuvant, and only registered adjuvants labeled for the crop and for tank mixing are permitted. For example, tank mixing the herbicide Reflex with a registered soybean oil adjuvant not labelled for the use, or with an unregistered food grade adjuvant, would not be acceptable.
While the Pest Control Products Act (PCPA) does not reference adjuvants specifically, they are prescribed to be pest control products in the regulations (Pest Control Products Regulations s.2(b)). The general reference in the PCPA that applies is s.6(5)(b). And so, in the case of adjuvants, you must follow the label.
Tank mixing requires caution and careful investigation. Should tank mix partners prove to be incompatible, the consequences can be subtle or dramatic, but are always negative. There are two kinds of incompatibility.
Biological or Chemical Incompatibility
This form of incompatibility may not be immediately apparent following an application. Some level of crop damage or impaired efficacy occurs, which may impact yield or warrant an additional “clean-up” application. This is the result of product synergism or antagonism.
Synergism (Crop damage)
When products synergize, the application becomes too potent. For example, an adjuvant could affect crop retention or uptake, exposing it to more active ingredient or overwhelming crop metabolism. The result is damage to the crop we are trying to protect.
Antagonism (Reduced efficacy)
When products antagonize, the application becomes less potent. There are several examples:
- pH adjusters in one product may reduce the half-life of another product (e.g. The fungicide Captan has a half-life of 3 hours at a pH of 7.1 and only 10 minutes at a pH of 8.2.)
- Active ingredients may get tied-up on the clay-based adjuvants in other products (e.g. glyphosate tied up by Metribuzin).
- One product changes the uptake/retention of another. For example, a contact herbicide burns weed foliage beyond its ability to take up a lethal dose of systemic herbicide.
Physical incompatibility affects work rate and efficacy. Products form solids that interfere with or halt spraying. It can also make sprayer clean-up more difficult. For example, weak-acid herbicides lower the pH of the spray mix, reducing the solubility of Group 2 herbicides (i.e. imidazolinones, sulfonylureas, sulfonanilides). The oily formulation then adheres to plastic and rubber surfaces in tanks, connectors and hoses.
There are many forms of physical incompatibility:
- Liquids can curdle into pastes and gels that clog plumbing to such an extent that flushing cannot clear it and a manual tear down is required.
- Dry formulations don’t hydrate or disperse, becoming sediment that clogs screens and nozzles. Even if they are small enough to spray, they reduce coverage uniformity. For example, a dry product added behind an oil gets coated, preventing it from hydrating.
- Certain product combinations may cause settling, or one partner is more prone to settling. If the sprayer sits without agitation, settled products may or may not resuspend. Even if they do resuspend in the tank, they may remain as sediment in lines.
- Certain product combinations may cause foaming, or one partner may be prone to foaming, causing overflows or breaking pump suction. When products foam, dry products added through the foam may swell, preventing hydration.
- Phase separation occurs when products layer in the tank. Consider oil and water. Even with agitation, the active ingredients may not be uniformly suspended in the tank and coverage uniformity will be reduced during spraying.
Incompatibility is often a function of the inert ingredients in pesticide formulations (e.g. thickeners, adjuvants, defoamers, stabilizers, solvents, etc.) and not the active ingredients. The more products you add to the tank, the more likely you’ll encounter an issue.
Do not decide on a new tank mix during loading. Even if you’ve used these products successfully in the past, formulations change without notice. Plan as much as possible off season when there is time to do the following:
Consult the pesticide labels
Pesticide labels are always the first point of reference. They should be obeyed even if they contradict conventional practices. Booklet-style labels that come with the products are long, difficult to search and may not be up-to-date.
In Canada, it is faster and easier to go to the PMRA Label Search website and search labels in PDF format. In other countries, consult the manufacturer’s website for label information. For each tank mix partner, use <CTRL>+F to find the following keywords:
- Do Not Mix
Consult manufacturer and crop advisors
It’s likely you are not the first to consider a certain tank mix. You can learn lessons from others
- Consult your chemical sales representative. They know their products best and want to see you succeed. They may have insight that is not found on the product label.
- Consult local government or academic extension programs for an unbiased opinion.
- Enlist the help of a professional crop advisor.
It is a good practice to get tank mix recommendations in writing. If something should go wrong, liability is an important concern.
If you are considering mixing partners not listed on the label, beware that local regulations may or may not permit you to do so. When there is no information available, or when labels contradict or are silent, it is best to perform a jar test for physical compatibility.
When you’ve made a mess
It happens. We’ll use this real-world situation as an example:
“I mixed up a batch of MCPA 500 A and Glyphosate at ¾ recommended label rate, but then got delayed on application with a stuck drill. I came back to the sprayer and found a nasty chemical precipitate – like waxy chunks. Agitation didn’t break them down. I dumped the tank out as I didn’t want to pump it through the booms. How do I clean up the chunks in the system?”
We forwarded this question to ag chemists Dr. Eric Spandl (Land of Lakes) and Dr. Jim Reiss (Precision Laboratories) and developed this response:
“Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, physically remove the “chunky” material. A lot of time can be wasted (and rinsate water created) by experimenting with various concoctions, but if you do choose to try a compatibility agent, first try it in a mason jar. If it works to dissolve the material, it can be added to the tank with water and agitated. If not, you are down to manual cleaning: hot water under pressure.”
We dubbed this process “The Reverse Jar Test”. Do not add hot water, cleaners or compatibility agents until the reverse jar test confirms success. You may create a larger problem. Of course, the best advice is to not put yourself in this position to begin with. Don’t make mixing decisions at the inductor bowl – make them before ordering product
For more information
Even when products are potentially compatible, issues can arise from errors in mixing order, pace, carrier volume, carrier quality and agitation. These are discussed in our article on Sprayer loading and jar testing. Be sure to download a copy of Purdue University’s 2018 “Avoid Tank Mixing Errors”. It is an excellent reference.