Agricultural science has made magnificent strides in the last few decades. Where once was rampant concern about mass starvation and food riots, farmers in developed nations are now producing more food on more land than once thought possible.

But the quest to use even fewer pesticides continues. Products need to protect plants against fungal and insect attack but the goal is to do that with fewer negative effects on the environment. Researchers are working to improve plant protection and one strategy is optimizing the interaction between the plant's barrier, plant protection products and adjuvants that are added to increase the effect of plant protection. 

Recent research at Malmö University has focused on the interaction between the cuticle which is the outermost layer of the plant leaf, and plant protection products and surfactants, surface-acting agents that are added to increase the effect of the plant protection product. The barrier that protects the plant and prevents uptake of foreign elements is situated in the cuticle.

"We have known for some time that surfactants, surface-acting agents, reinforce the effect of plant protection products. But we know very little about the underlying mechanisms that affect the plant leaf barrier and thus also uptake of the active substances," commented Anton Fagerström, a researcher at Malmö University. "The barrier is highly effective and protects the plant even though it is unbelievably thin. We have developed a new model to determine how the structure of the barrier changes when surfactants and water are added at various temperatures. This increases our understanding of how surfactants act."

Fagerström has also studied cuticle uptake of plant protection products and which properties in a mixture that affect uptake. In the future, the results of this research could enable selection of the most effective surfactant for a particular plant protection product, and the most effective plant protection product for a particular plant, thus minimizing the amounts of plant protection products used in the agricultural industry.

"The future demands sustainable agriculture that can feed the world's ever-increasing population. To succeed, the research must continue."

Link: Effects of surfactant adjuvants on plant leaf cuticle barrier properties by Anton Fagerström