GG: What impact would the elimination of IR-4 have on chemical companies like BASF? Would it affect chemical companies’ ability to best serve floriculture?
SL: The IR-4 program allows BASF to offer effective plant protection chemistries to so called ‘minor crop’ users. That means nursery, greenhouse and landscape managers have a wider arsenal of products to use for pest management. IR-4 funds expand the testing of our chemistries to other crops, on more pests and in additional markets. For BASF, that means we have more products to offer growers. Without the IR-4 program, we probably could not afford the extensive testing required to effectively bring all the products in our portfolio to market.
GG: Would you envision chemical companies having to take on the responsibility of conducting the floriculture research that leads to product registrations themselves?
SL: BASF could take on the task of testing, but doing so would result in significant delays in getting our best products into the hands of growers. The products would most likely cost growers more. Ultimately, the expense of doing in-house testing would be significant, and it would probably result in fewer tools made available to growers.
GG: How much floriculture-specific research does BASF do on its own? How much does BASF lean on other entities like IR-4?
SL: I do not know the exact percentage, but we rely heavily on IR-4 to accelerate our efforts to get new, effective products to market. Most initial new product testing is done in house at BASF or through contract research. Once we recognize a product’s potential for use in ornamentals, we expand our testing across the United States using IR-4 researchers. This allows BASF to look at product performance across a wide range of growing conditions and helps BASF write the best label for growers.
GG: How have vanishing dollars at the university level affected chemical companies’ ability to serve the floriculture market?
SL: No question that the disappearance of university-applied research has affected product development for growers. BASF continues to aggressively develop new products for growers. We now rely on in-house development and use external sources—such as IR-4—as needed. Keep in mind that not all products are accepted into the IR-4 program; they have budget limitations on the amount of products they can test.
GG: With fewer federal dollars supporting research that leads to product registrations, do you envision greenhouse growers focusing on key crops since minor floriculture crops would likely be most affected?
SL: BASF will continue to innovate and develop new products for growers. To your point though, fewer federal dollars—such such as limiting IR-4—impact the speed at which new products can be added to our labels and slow down the timing of certain state registrations.
GG: What should growers keep in mind about IR-4 and the program’s role in the industry?
SL: I am a strong supporter of the IR-4 program. In my 34-plus years in the ornamentals industry, I’ve seen firsthand the specific benefits of this program. BASF takes an active role in the IR-4 meetings, and we see the positive impact it has for growers. Many effective and safe products are available to growers today; those products did not come to market by accident. Growers and distributors need to understand that the discovery and development process for new products is very expensive. Growers enjoy effective products that are legally registered for a wide range of crops and pests, and those products are the result of extensive product testing. The IR-4 program is an important part of that development process. I dare say, it is a government program the really works.