An adjuvant is an additive that is intended to improve the effectiveness of a herbicide. Some herbicides require no additional adjuvants to perform well, but some perform better with adjuvants, and this is usually detailed on the product label. Many adjuvants have been developed to help herbicides to cover, stick to and penetrate the leaves of target plants.
The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority recognises two categories of adjuvants:
Wetters/spreaders enhance spreading and adhesion of spray droplets over target surfaces by reducing the surface tension of the herbicide formulation, and include:
Stickers increase adhesion of herbicides to leaf surfaces, and can be:
Penetrants improve the transfer of active ingredients from the leaf surface to its interior tissues and include:
Extenders enhance the amount of time the active ingredient remains toxic by increasing its resistance to environmental degradation, and include:
Humectants increase the density/drying time of a herbicide spray, including:
Acidifying/buffering agents adjust the pH of alkaline or acidic water and minimise decomposition of the herbicide through alkaline hydrolysis.
Anti-foaming/de-foaming agents reduce or suppress the formation of foam in the spray tank preventing foam overflow, and include:
Compatibility agents permit the mixing of different herbicides by preventing antagonism between their ingredients in the spray solution, and include:
Drift control agents alter the viscoelastic properties of the spray solution yielding a coarser spray with greater average droplet sizes, and include:
Dyes are commonly used to detect untreated areas or avoid treating an area twice.
Water conditioners prevent reactions between hard water ions in spray solutions and suppress formation of precipitates or salts, and include:
Addition of an adjuvant can reduce herbicide selectivity and thereby increase potential damage to crops and pastures. This is not an issue for fallow and pre-emergent herbicides.
Adjuvants are added to increase effectiveness of herbicides, however, the wrong type or rate of adjuvant can reduce herbicide effectiveness, by causing, for example, decreased herbicide retention on leaves.
Hard water can lead to poor mixing of chemicals with water. This particularly occurs with emulsifiable concentrates. High levels of calcium and magnesium ions bind with amine formulations, causing them to be less soluble and therefore less effective.
Low water temperature can lead to jelling in the tank. High-concentration herbicides may not mix and surfactants may perform poorly.