Understanding Herbicide Adjuvants

What You’ll Learn...


  • Adjuvants can help to improve post-emergence herbicide performance and modify spray solution characteristics.

  • Herbicide product labels outline specific instructions for the use of adjuvants.

  • Adjuvants must be properly matched to each herbicide formulation and tank mixture for optimum effectiveness and crop safety. 

The Function of Adjuvants


Adjuvants play an important role in herbicide formulations and spray mixtures to help herbicide performance either by improving herbicide activity or ease of application. Herbicide labels are the most important source of information for adjuvant recommendations that cover diverse use situations and tank mixtures. Adjuvants are specific for each product as researched and developed by the herbicide manufacturers.

  •  Adjuvants include spreaders, stickers, wetting agents, penetrants, stabilizing agents, compatibility agents, buffering agents, anti-foam agents, and others.1
  • Adjuvants can be classified into two main groups: Activators and utility modifiers (or special purpose adjuvants). 
  • Activator adjuvants, such as surfactants, crop oil concentrates (COC), and nitrogen (N) are normally used to help improve the performance of  herbicides by increasing herbicide retention or penetration on or into leaf surfaces, improving rainfastness, or to decrease photodegradation of herbicides.
  • Utility modifiers, such as buffering, antifoam, and drift control agents, typically modify the characteristics of the spray solution and product compatibility.

Since herbicide spray adjuvants impact how much herbicide enters the plant, they can impact weed control and crop safety; therefore, it is important to follow the label requirements for each herbicide. Each herbicide product has adjuvant requirements that are specified on the product label. The label will provide guidance and adjuvant options to address tank mixtures, environmental conditions, or weed species characteristics. Some herbicide products, such as Roundup PowerMAX® 3 Herbicide, are formulated with sufficient adjuvants in the herbicide formulation and may not need additional adjuvants added to the spray mixture. Some products have specific recommendations for spray adjuvants that the user must add to the spray mixture. The user should pay particular attention to label instructions for each tank-mix product because label recommendations for adjuvants may differ for each product. Each herbicide manufacturer may have supplemental labels or fact sheets that provide additional guidance for the use of adjuvants for specific application situations, weed species, crops, or tank mixtures. There is a diverse array of adjuvant products and brands. The user must understand the composition and function of each product, while considering expected environmental conditions at the time of herbicide application, to properly match the adjuvant to individual herbicides or tank mixtures. 


Types of Adjuvants


There are several adjuvants that can be used with herbicides such as surfactants, oil concentrates, ammonium N fertilizers, spreader-stickers, wetting agents, and penetrants.1,2,3 Nonionic  surfactants (NIS) are good dispersing agents to help improve plant coverage and penetration of foliar-applied herbicides with low toxicity to crop. Oil concentrates help improve herbicide penetration into leaf surfaces and reduce surface tension. Crop oil concentrates (COC) are derived from petroleum. Methylated seed oils (MSO) function like other oil concentrates but are derived from seed oils.2 High surfactant oil concentrates (HSOC) are emulsifiable oil-based products containing 25-50% surfactant (wt/wt) in a minimum of 50% oil (wt/wt). HSOC oil concentrates may be MSO or COC based. COC, MSO, and HSOC, may increase the risk of crop injury more than surfactants.3 Ammonium N fertilizer products, used at recommended rates, can act as adjuvants to help improve the performance of certain herbicides especially under hard water conditions, drought, or in tank mixtures. Spray-grade ammonium sulfate (AMS) or urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) are common N fertilizer adjuvants. N fertilizer solutions are generally recommended in conjunction with NIS or COC. Blended adjuvants contain specific combinations of special purpose and/or activator adjuvants that serve multiple functions.

Table 1. Adjuvant recommendations for Bayer herbicides. 

Assumptions unless otherwise stated: AMS and UAN are spray-grade quality, NIS at 80% concentration, MSO at least 80% methylated seed oil and 10% emulsifier.

For additional information, contact your local Bayer representative. 


1 Jordan, T, Johnson, B., and Nice, G. 2011. Adjuvants used with herbicides: Factors to consider. Purdue University. https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/pestcrop/2011/issue25/index.html#adjuvant.

2 Curran, W.S. and Lingenfelter, D.D. 2009. Adjuvants for enhancing herbicide performance. Agronomy Facts 37. Penn State Extension. https://extension.psu.edu/.

3 Hartzler, R. 2013. (Re) learning to accept herbicide injury to crops. Iowa State University, https://www.extension.iastate.edu/.

Hartzler, B. 2001. Role of spray adjuvants with postemergence herbicides. Iowa State University Weed Science Online https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/encyclopedia/role-spray-adjuvants-postemergence-herbicides.


Web sources verified 6/29/21.  1034_S3

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