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Put on pants and go old school on weeds this spring

By Matt Reese

Technology can be a fantastic thing. A few months ago, we started having OCJ/Ohio Ag Net office meetings via Skype on Monday mornings. That way, wherever we were, we could fire up our computers and talk with each other over the Internet. There is something kind of nice about attending a meeting in your underpants from the comfort of your living room.

As things progressed, it became more apparent that in-person meetings were more productive, so we switched to that format. This required me to shave, put on my pants and take the time to face the traffic and the grim drive into work on Monday mornings. While this was rough duty, the in-person meetings have proven more fruitful. Technology can be great, but sometimes it is better to put on pants and be a bit more old-fashioned.

Getting back to old school weed control will be increasingly important as glyphosate resistant weeds continue to pop up and spread in Ohio fields. This is going to get abundant coverage in the months ahead as nearly all of the major ag-related companies are focused on this growing problem. Herbicide resistant weeds are nothing new. They have been around since the 1980s, and weed scientists have been warning farmers about the potential for significant problems for years. As an example, Jeff Stachler, who worked as a graduate student with Ohio State University herbicide specialist Mark Loux, was touting the importance of managing weeds to prevent resistance back in the early 2000s.

But, back then, weed control was finally easier. Roundup Ready crops offered low-cost, easy weed control solutions that kept fields clean for a fraction of the time and effort that was previously required. Why would anyone worry about resistant weeds when fields were so clean with such ease and savings? Plus, crop prices were not exactly stellar and cutting costs was extremely important.

Unfortunately, that was, and is, still the attitude of many farmers, but now they are starting to see some[singlepic id=373 w=320 h=240 float=left] more weeds left in the fields after multiple glyphosate applications. Dale Minyo and I heard a presentation from Stachler at a BASF event at Commodity Classic, where he was still preaching the weed resistance gospel, though now in his joint appointment at the North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota where resistant weeds have also been making unwelcome appearances.

“Glyphosate resistance is bad enough, but the real game changer is multiple resistance. We might even have our first case of three-way resistance in Minnesota. We’ve turned into a Roundup Ready corn and Roundup Ready bean rotation and you’ve got growers relying on glyphostate only in these crops,” Stachler said. “The current cost to soybean growers is $6 to $8 an acre now, but with glyphosate resistance we’re looking at $34 an acre to solve the problem. Scouting before and after herbicide applications is very important. When you see a plant that is dead, next to the same kind of plant that is injured and a plant that is unaffected, you need to be concerned. We need to respond quickly to these changing weed populations. The time to do something is when there are just a few resistant weeds in the field. Then, we have to maximize herbicide activity with the full rates and the best adjuvants.”

From Minnesota through Ohio, the problem is getting worse, but can still be controlled with proper management. This cannot be said in many fields in the southern United States.

“Nobody wants to change until it happens to them. It is like a health issue. The doctor tells you that you need to lose weight and improve your diet, but you don’t do anything about it until you really have a problem. Well, we’re having a pigweed heart attack right now,” said Larry Steckel, a weed specialist with University of Tennessee Extension. “Tennessee soybean growers have had an increase of $72 million in herbicide costs due to resistant weeds and that is not including the hand weeding. A lot of my growers now have hand-weeding crews on staff in the summer and that is very expensive. Learn from our mistakes on this and be proactive about managing this.”

By 2008, Steckel started to see farmers losing entire soybean fields to herbicide resistant pigweed. The plant has a deep taproot and grows very aggressively. It also reproduces aggressively, producing up to 500,000 seeds per plant. That makes for a bounty of resistant weeds after just one year of failed weed

Resistant pigweed plants can produce 500,000 seeds per plant that can spring up in fields the following year.

control. Once the resistant weeds get over a couple of inches tall, the only way to effectively control them is to plow the field under and start over.

“We’re losing to this weed,” Steckel said. “I am hopeful that we can take what we learned with glyphosate and build a long-term sustainable system to manage weeds with herbicides, row width, cover crops and tillage. When we have folks having to disk down fields and using five herbicide modes of action, we’re getting people’s attention. We are getting to the end of our rope.”

The problem is very serious, and it already has a foothold in Ohio. There are some interesting new herbicide options coming in the near future, including dicamba and 2,4-D resistant crops, which could be available in the next few years depending upon regulatory approval. In the meantime, it is time to get back to basics with your weed control and start with a clean field and layers of residuals, in combination with glyphosate. The 2012 growing season is the time to tackle your tough weeds, and tell your neighbor to do the same. Sometimes technology can be a wonderful thing, but sometimes the situation demands that you take a little extra time, put on your pants, and go old school. Such is the case with OCJ office meetings, and resistant weeds.




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