Mitch Hockbein virtually presents his research about plant pathology
Mitch Hockbein virtually presents his research about plant pathology on April 19. Taken by Madelyn Meier

University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student Mitch Hockbein virtually presented his research about plant pathology and the environmental effects on adjuvant performance April 19.

According to Hockbein, adjuvant is a substance that is added to a pesticide product or pesticide spray mixture to enhance the pesticide’s performance and the physical properties of the spray mixture. 

“Through my research, we worked to create products that allow growers to get the most out of their inputs,” Hockbein said.

Lirong Zeng, a UNL professor, introduced Hockbein’s seminar and spoke about Hockbein’s summer internship with WinField, an agricultural company that combines technology and farming to improve production for growers.

During his time at WinField, Hockbein studied herbicide efficacy in order to see how different plants are affected by various adjuvants. 

“Herbicide efficacy is influenced by leaf morphology and can influence the way that plants absorb herbicide,” Hockbein said. “Light intensity and temperature also strongly influence herbicide absorption.” 

To test a large number of herbicide samples, Hockbein used a Kruss machine, which programmed specific amounts of samples to be dispersed and measured accurately. 

“I did thousands of different droplets, so this machine was really important,” he said. 

Hockbein tested four different plants to see how the absorption of each was affected by differing adjuvant mixtures. He studied corn, soybeans and different types of weeds, all in different maturity levels. 

“The two factors that I looked for when testing the four differing plants were surfactant and wetting,” he said. “Surfactant is any solution that allows for reduced tension in the liquid it is dissolved in and allows for better absorption. Wetting is an industry word to describe the ability of a droplet to disperse on a surface.”

After taping the varying plants to slides and placing them into the Kruss machine, Hockbein studied each leaf’s ability to absorb.

“What we’re really interested in is the change in contact angle,” Hockbein said. “If we have longer change, then it means that the leaf was able to absorb the product better.” 

According to Hockbein, the results of his research at WinField were not conclusive but still useful.

“Since WinField has been deciding what products can be the most useful for farmers and growers, this research can be a baseline for what is already out in the market and for what is coming up the pipeline,” he said. “We want to make sure that we are getting the best products to the growers because they are really important.” 

Hockbein said that there is still much more research to be done in the area of herbicide efficacy and adjuvant performance, but it excites him.