PEORIA – There’s a new player on the chemical farming scene: fungicide.

There’s nothing new about using chemicals to ward off disease but in recent years, many Illinois farmers have used airplanes to spray fungicide over as much as 20 percent of the state’s 12 million acres of corn, estimated Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association.

Already raised in a chemical sea – Illinois farmers used over 30 million pounds of herbicide on corn in 2005, the last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture collected data on fertilizer usage – spraying corn with fungicide in mid-summer is a fairly recent trend.

Attention was focused on fungicide treatments in the Midwest four years ago when concerns spread about the possible arrival of soybean rust from the south.

“Many of the fungicides being used on both corn and soybeans were developed initially to handle the potential outbreak of rust in Illinois,” said Payne.

While soybean rust has so far been unable to stand up to northern winters, the idea of taking preventative measures against disease was off and flying, said Gordon Roskamp, an agriculture professor at Western Illinois University. “(Fungicide manufacturer) BASF claimed farmers could get a yield response from healthier (corn) plants,” he said.

Gary Schmitz, regional technical manager for BASF in Mahomet, near Champaign, said BASF’s Headline, the leading corn fungicide with about 70 percent of the market, had been shown to give yield benefits of 12 to 16 bushels an acre.

“That’s the driving force behind it,” he said of Headline’s popularity. “Corn has better standability at harvest. The stalks are stronger,” said Schmitz.

Another popular corn fungicide, Syngenta’s Quilt, has been recognized as helping farmers harvest more quickly, said Eric Tedford, technical brand manager, speaking from company offices in Greensboro, N.C.