Maximizing Crop Yields: The Role of Chemical Crop Protection Products in Optimizing Agriculture

  • November 09, 2023
  • Blog
Tractor applying crop protection chemicals in field

It’s no exaggeration to say that the roughly 800 crop protection chemicals registered for use around the world sustain the lives of hundreds of millions of people. 

Not only do these products increase crop yields (and thus profits), they enable farmers to grow more in less space, a key benefit as farmland dwindles more and more. Modern innovations are also helping these chemicals minimize damage to the environment.  

At Seatex, we have the experience, expertise, and scalability to support your crop protection product development, commercialization, and outsourcing needs.

Here’s a broad overview of how the various crop protection products make for a better harvest.

Crop Protection Products to Optimize Agriculture

Adding materials to crops to protect them goes back roughly 4,500 years to the ancient Sumarians, who used sulfur compounds to control insects and mites. Modern chemical products are designed to overcome many of the same challenges farmers have struggled with for millenia, such as pests, weeds, and plant disease.


In North America, pests destroy an estimated 37% of the potential yield of plant crops. For the smallest of these critters, there are insecticides. Whether by attacking their nervous systems, affecting their metabolism or maturation process, or killing them outright, insecticides are used to stop locusts, crickets, beetles, leafhoppers, and other tiny vegetarians. 

There are at least 20 main types of insecticides with different modes and ranges of action, from broad to insect-specific. Three of the most common are:

  • organophosphates: First synthesized in 1850, these pesticides inhibit neuromuscular transmission, leading to paralysis and death in vertebrates. Varieties still in use include chlorpyrifos, fonofos, and azinphos-methyl.
  • pyrethroids: Most agricultural insect pests can be dealt with by this pesticide, which affects both the peripheral and central nervous systems causing tremors, hyperactivity, and paralysis. Examples include phenothrin (e.g. Anvil mosquito controller), cyfluthrin (e.g. Baygone sprays), and bifenthrin (e.g. Ortho Home Defense).
  • carbamates: A broad-spectrum AChE-inhibitor like organophosphates, carbamates include carbaryl (e.g. Sevin), propoxur (Baygon), and methomyl (e.g. Golden Malrin Fly Bait).


The most common form of pesticides, herbicides are used to protect crops from weeds, especially in row-crop farming. But they can also be used in lawns, parks, golf courses, and other non-ag areas. 

There are many different modes of action among crop protection herbicides. A chemical may be used to inhibit a weed’s enzymes (ACCase inhibitors), amino acids (ALS inhibitors), photosynthesis, root or shoot growth, or glutamine or pigment synthesis. Glyphosate (e.g. Roundup) and atrazine are by far the top two herbicides used in agricultural land in the U.S., with 2,4-D (e.g. Vanquish) a distant third.


Though lesser-known than herbicides and insecticides, chemical fungicides play an important role fighting fungal diseases, a major threat to crop production, particularly grapes. In wine-growing regions, they may make up over 90% of all pesticide applications.

Fungicides may be classed as contact/protectant (they stick to plant surfaces) or systemic/penetrant (they’re absorbed into the plant), and preventive or curative. As for modes of action, there are 13 for fungicides, the most common being respiration inhibitors and sterol biosynthesis inhibitors. Among the former, succinate dehydrogenase inhibitors (SDHIs) are one of the most popular types and include carboxamide chemicals such as bixafen, fluxapyroxad, and penflufen.


The parasitic worm known as the nematode may be small–microscopic, in fact–but what it lacks in size it makes up for in numbers: 57 billion of them for every human on earth, found in soil on every continent on earth. Although certain species are helpful, types such as cyst, root-knot, and lesion nematodes are pests that plague a wide variety of crops.

The two main types of nematicides are fumigants and nonfumigants. Fumigants are formulated as liquids that vaporize and move through soil as a gas, such as 1,3 dichloropropene, chloropicrin, dimethyl dibromide, and allyl isothiocyanate. Nonfumigants such as oxamyl (e.g. Vydate) and ethoprop (e.g. Mocap) are formulated as liquids or water-soluble granules and moved through the soil by water.

Growth Regulators

Plant growth regulators (PGRs) are synthetic chemicals that mimic naturally occurring hormones in plants to either increase or decrease plant growth. Increasing growth has obvious benefits for crops, while decreasing it can reduce mowing needs, nitrogen demands, winterkill, and susceptibility to disease. 

Products such as mefluidide classified as Type I growth regulators block the mitosis process and prevent seedhead emergence from the leaf sheath. Plants such as fruit trees benefit from this action as sucker twig growth off a grafted rootstock is prevented.

Type II growth regulators such as flurprimidol and paclobutrazol inhibit GA (gibberellin) synthesis, the hormones that cause plant cells to elongate, a less stressful method of growth control for the plant.

Special Chemicals for Special Challenges

In addition to the above products, specialty chemical manufacturers like Seatex are supplying new, specially formulated crop protectors that boast unique capabilities that growers have not had access to in the past. 

Many traditional crop protection chemicals are getting modern upgrades via biosynthesis, the modification of natural, renewable resources into new products. One such chemical in the insecticide category is the semi-synthetic Afidopyropen for controlling aphids and other sucking pests, which is derived from the fermentation process of the fungus Penicillium coprobium.

Fungicides are benefiting from biosynthesis, as well. Dow AgroSciences recently discovered a highly effective remedy for the fungus Zymoseptoria tritici in the semi-synthetic active ingredient Fenpicoxamid, by isolating it from the fermentation broth of the bacteria Streptomyces. Zymoseptoria tritici can be devastating to wheat; it’s been estimated that 70% of the fungicide used in Europe is used to fight it. 

Specialty chemicals are also being made to tackle herbicide resistance, cross-resistance (resistance to multiple herbicides with the same mode of action), and multiple resistance (resistance to herbicides with 2+ modes of action), which present major headaches for farmers. Current trends include a greater emphasis on pre-emergent herbicides, using allelochemicals to create more environmentally friendly bioherbicides, and modes of action with new targets such as lipid or chlorophyll biosynthesis, the MEP pathway, or photosynthetic electron transport. 

Other specialty products on the market now or in development include:

  • pheromone-based traps for precise pest control
  • encapsulated pesticides for controlled release
  • soil pH-adjusting agents 
  • sunflower extract for controlling mold in blueberries

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins for insect control.

Chemicals for Regulatory and Sustainability Goals

Although maximizing yield is ultimately the goal of every crop protector, some products also place equal importance on improved sustainability or satisfying new, tighter regulatory requirements. Due to current trends, this type of crop protection chemical is undergoing arguably the most intense research and innovation in the industry. 

For example, recent bans on widely used nematicides such as aldicarb have spurred research and development into less toxic, more selective chemical products in the last decade. One notable product, fluensulfone, was registered in 2014 as a nonfumigant nematicide with low toxicity to non-target insects and mammals.

However, more research is needed as despite societal and regulatory pressure, soil fumigation remains the most accessible form of nematode treatment and for many growers is the only option available. 

Researchers are also looking at the way crop protection chemicals are delivered. The 2022 winner of the Collegiate Inventors Competition organized by the National Inventors Hall of Fame was the creator of a pesticide spray system that “cloaks” droplets in a small amount of plant-based oil, preventing them from drifting in the wind or running off, both significant sources of environmental pollution.

Seatex is a Grower’s Best Friend

We are proud to provide the agricultural industry with many different types of products, including crop protection chemicals. Click the links below to learn more about our ag work and our specialty chemicals capabilities.