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Agricultural surfactant is a type of adjuvant that is designed to improve the dispersing/emulsifying, absorbing, spreading, wetting, sticking, and penetrating properties of a pesticide spray mixture. Sectors such as agriculture have come to understand their many virtues for enhancing the performance of fertilizers and plant protection products on crops. The agricultural surfactants market was valued at 1.37 Billion in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 1.88 Billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of 6.46%[1].

Working Principle

In the use of insecticide, herbicide, or fungicide, it is important to prevent your liquid chemical from rolling off the plant leaves, as that will be a waste and will be no use at all. Surfactants help the chemical stick to the plant, penetrate the waxy cuticle to allow the plant to absorb the chemical and increase the product's effectiveness.

In detail, the molecules on the surface of a water droplet are held together with more force than those of the interior water molecules. This causes surface tension, which can prevent many things from going into solution and getting wet. While Surfactants can overcome the surface tension, because they have a water-loving polar head (hydrophilic head) and water-hating non-polar tail (hydrophobic tail). Surfactants can adsorb and orient on the liquid-air interface (Figure 1). Surfactant molecules are both water and oil soluble, which allows them to move to the surface of the liquid and disrupt the hydrogen bonds between water molecules. This reduces surface tension and flattens the droplet, allowing it to cover more of the leaf surface and reducing the potential for rolling off.

Fig. 1 Schematic diagram of wetting.Fig. 1 Schematic diagram of wetting.

Surfactants in Agriculture

Not all types of surfactants can be used in agriculture. For example, as cationic surfactants are very phytotoxic, their application in agriculture is limited. Anionic surfactants may cause heavy foaming and mild phytotoxicity, so they are not recommended for agriculture[2]. Surfactants commonly used in agriculture are non-ionic surfactants and biosurfactants.

Non-ionic surfactants
  • Non-ionic surfactants do not form ions in water and are commonly used in agriculture. And they are the most recommended ones for use with registered pesticides because they are compatible with a wide range of pesticidal activities (systemic, contact, etc.). In addition, they aid in absorption of active pesticide ingredients without causing tissue damage, and they can be used under a wide range of environmental conditions.
  • Biosurfactants are derived from renewable resources and are low or nontoxic, biodegradable, demonstrate excellent surface activity, possess high specificity, show effectiveness under extreme conditions. Functions of biosurfactants in agriculture includes: i) bioremediation of contaminated agriculture soil, ii) plant growth promotion by elimination of phytopathogens, iii) enhancement of plant microbe interaction, iv) improving the efficiency of pesticides.

Alfa Chemistry is a professional supplier of agricultural surfactants. For high quality surfactants, professional technical service, use suggestion and latest industry news, please feel free to contact us.


  1. Agricultural Surfactants Market by Type (Non-ionic, Anionic, Cationic, Amphoteric), Application (Herbicides, Fungicides), Substrate Type (Synthetic, Bio-based), Crop Type (Cereals & Grains, Fruits & Vegetables), and Region - Global Forecast to 2022.
  2. Patrick Merscher, Alex Stone. Adjuvants for Organic Pest and Disease Management.