UPL is the fifth-largest agrochemical company in the world and provides an array of aquatic chemicals to help irrigation districts keep their conveyance structures clean. Not only does UPL manufacture some of the best-known aquatic herbicides in the irrigation business, it also delivers quality customer service. In this interview, UPL’s business lead for aquatics, Jeremy Slade, tells Irrigation Leader about his field of the business and changes in the industry.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Jeremy Slade: I’ve been in the aquatic plant management industry for about 15 years. After college, my first real job was working as a research associate at Mississippi State University. I was contracted by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, where I evaluated herbicides and algaecides in controlled settings (i.e., mesocosms and growth chambers), supporting new product registrations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and developing new use patterns for existing registered herbicides and algaecides. I did that for about 3 years and then moved to Florida, where I took a job at the Center for Aquatic Invasive Plants at the University of Florida. There, I evaluated herbicide applications of various scales to support the operations of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which has one of the largest aquatic plant management programs in the country. A little over 10 years ago, I joined UPL as a territory sales manager for the southeastern United States. My territory spanned from Texas to Florida and up to Tennessee. In that capacity, I worked with commercial applicators and state and federal agencies to provide recommendations for their aquatic plant management operations. A little over 2 years ago, I took over as the business lead for the UPL aquatics division, where I manage a team of five territory managers and one field development manager. Two of the territory managers I manage are primarily focused the irrigation canal business in the 15 western states.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell our readers about UPL as a company.
Jeremy Slade: We’re the fifth-largest agrochemical company in the world, a ranking we reached a couple of years ago with the acquisition of Arysta LifeScience. UPL was founded in 1969 and today has a presence in more than 138 countries. In the United States, we were previously known as UPI, but aligning with the global structure, we updated the name to UPL NA Inc. The NA stands for North America. The North American headquarters is located outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our focus is providing sustainable and customer-centric solutions. We offer a variety of products and services, primarily for agriculture, but we also have divisions that service specialty markets like golf courses, fumigation, biosolutions, seed treatment, and aquatics. The United States is the only country within UPL that has an aquatics division.
Irrigation Leader: How many folks work at UPL?
Jeremy Slade: Globally, there are more than 10,000 employees. There are more than 300 UPL employees in North America.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about UPL’s canal herbicide portfolio.
Jeremy Slade: The irrigation canal portfolio isn’t broad, but it has had a significant effect on the irrigation canal market over the last 10 years. We have two primary brands, CASCADE and TETON, both of which are endothall based and provide excellent efficacy and longevity when used appropriately. CASCADE is a potassium endothall formulation and is classified as a herbicide. TETON is the amine endothall formulation and is classified as an herbicide and an algaecide. Both products come in various package sizes, have limited use restrictions, are easy to apply, and have versatile use patterns to control weeds in small to large systems. We also have two copper formulations, which most readers might not be familiar with: CURRENT and SYMMETRY. CURRENT is classified as an herbicide, and SYMMETRY is classified as an algaecide, and both products are chelated coppers with 8 percent elemental copper. Both can be used in conjunction with endothall-based products or independently. Most recently, we were granted EPA approval for a new product called TOP DECK. While the name is new, there are other products in the market with the same active ingredient, imazamox. We’re currently working on state registrations for this new product. Once all of those are received, it will be available for use in and around aquatic sites, such as laterals or bank work, for vegetation management, and in deep water canals prior to filling.
Irrigation Leader: Who are your main customers?
Jeremy Slade: Our customers include anyone who manages water, specifically nuisance plants and algae. Often, people think of exotic invasive plants as the main nuisances, but in the irrigation canal market, native plants can also create problems for conveyance. UPL started by managing plants and algae in the lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and river markets, which is the field we typically call aquatics. The irrigation market is relatively new to us, but our customers include homeowners, commercial applicators, irrigation districts, municipalities, and state and federal agencies.
Irrigation Leader: How does UPL develop its markets?
Jeremy Slade: We look for markets and opportunities to provide solutions to customers who are dealing with water weeds and algae issues. We know that water is one of the most valuable resources we have, and we keep that in mind when we work with our customers, including irrigation districts, commercial applicators, agencies, universities, and homeowners. We work with all of them simultaneously to understand issues that occur in the field, and we try to leverage knowledge and experience to continually refine solutions and products.
For example, prior to the registration of CASCADE and TETON for use in the water conveyance systems of the 15 western states, there weren’t many options. At that time, there was a need for an effective, long-lasting, environmentally friendly solution to make water management easier. We believe both products have filled that niche. In most instances, irrigation districts have relatively short windows for their operations, so we’re looking for science-based recommendations to develop our markets and provide solutions to customers that they don’t typically have.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of results do your clients see from using UPL products?
Jeremy Slade: In short, efficacy and longevity. Our products have few restrictions and are easy to apply, and our many years of experience allow us to make strong, sound, science-based recommendations. As a result, our customers have become accustomed to getting the results they need to achieve. Those results are weed- and algae-free canals during the time of year during which they need deliver water to their customers. With less time needed for managing weeds and algae, irrigation managers and ditch tenders can focus on their other maintenance tasks. Our customers are happy with the products, which are efficacious and economical.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of technical support does UPL provide?
Jeremy Slade: One of the advantages of UPL is that all our territory managers have worked in the industry in various capacities. I’ve got a couple managers who worked as applicators; two of my managers and I did research in the field; one of my managers worked in distribution; and all of us have been in the plant management industry for many years now. Because of that, we have a strong knowledge base and experience that allow us to provide solid recommendations. When it comes to technical support in particular, we do have a technical development manager who works with the territory managers on any questions or issues that come up in the field.
If a customer isn’t getting the level of efficacy that they feel they should, we can provide sampling and analysis to identify the cause. Dye studies and herbicide residue analysis are two tools that we use to determine treatment regiments and correlate efficacy. Both of these aid us in making sure that plans are in place and work as a check to make sure treatments are hitting a concentration exposure time requirement. We want to understand the goals and objectives of the canal manager. We also work with each irrigation district to provide a unique solution, because each system is unique. We want to make sure we tailor treatment regimens to specific systems to guarantee results. Sometimes, this requires adaptive management. Because CASCADE and TETON are easy to apply, we can even make on-the-fly adjustments on the day of the treatment. Our territory managers and field development manager are dedicated to working with each individual customer.
We also provide excellent customer service and regulatory support. We not only want to do a good job on the technical side, but we want to make sure the product is there on time, is clean, and looks good. We’re also committed to addressing any questions regarding National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and ensuring that we’re following all regulatory guidelines.
Irrigation Leader: Does UPL have a unique payment delivery program that fits the budget cycles of irrigation districts?
Jeremy Slade: We’ve tried to make sure our purchasing programs for irrigation districts take advantage of preferred pricing early in the year to appeal to their boards of directors so that they can get the product prior to the start of the treatment season. From what we’ve seen, that is valuable to canal companies. They want to cover their product needs early in the season so that they can hit the ground running when it’s time to go.
Irrigation Leader: What is your message to irrigation districts with aquatic herbicide programs? What should they know about UPL?
Jeremy Slade: If you’re experiencing issues with plants and algae in your conveyance systems, please give UPL a call. This message is for our current customers, too. We want to hear from you, whether your message is good or bad. At UPL, we want to understand your issues and provide options; we’re here to help. We have reliable solutions. We want to help with your aquatic plant and algae management plans, and we enjoy working with each district to provide a specifically tailored, viable, cost-effective, and efficacious management program.
Irrigation Leader: How has the aquatic herbicide industry changed in recent years?
Jeremy Slade: I think it has changed fairly significantly. Over the last couple of years, there has been considerable consolidation. Manufacturers, distributors, and commercial application companies have made significant acquisitions and mergers. I believe customers are looking for stability within the industry. From that standpoint, it is becoming more apparent that we need to focus more on the customer, because at the end of the day, that’s who we’re working with. On top of that, there’s been a movement for pesticide safety. It’s now more important than ever for the industry to have a unified message. We have to have the tools to manage the issues we have in our waters. Having science-based information that we can provide to the end users and customers is vital for our ability to continue to have sustainable vegetation management and food development.
Irrigation Leader: What is your message to Congress and other policymakers about the safe use of aquatic herbicides?
Jeremy Slade: I think they need to listen to the users. At the end of the day, pesticides, specifically herbicides and algaecides, are tools that are needed in the field by the people who are providing our food and irrigation water. If we don’t understand what they need, we can’t provide viable options or solutions. To take that a step further, it would help to have the regulatory agencies get out in the field to see how these operations are run. A lot of times, their information comes from a piece of paper or what they are being told, so seeing it for themselves would be valuable, in my opinion. Discussing these things face to face with an applicator who has been applying a product for years would give some perspective on how it’s actually being used and the challenges users encounter. We also need to support the scientists who are doing research and developing these products. We’re getting into an age in which feelings and emotion are driving decisions, but those decisions need to be driven by science-based information.
Irrigation Leader: Can aquatic herbicides be used safely?
Jeremy Slade: Following the directions for use on a product label is the best way to ensure that you are using it safely and effectively. The label is the law.