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Cover crops can swamp fallow weeds

A non-herbicide fallow weed control option.

Whether they are resistant to herbicide or not, weeds generally do not compete well with vigourous crops, but in the fallow they can rapidly take advantage of the lack of competition for resources.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries researcher, Dr Annie Ruttledge has been running experiments at Kingaroy to investigate the benefits of bringing crop competition into the fallow phase of cropping systems in southern Queensland.

Dr Annie Ruttledge, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Queensland weeds researcher is conducting trials to identify cover crop species suited to southern Queensland that have weed-suppressive traits.

With investment from GRDC the cover crop project, led by Charles Sturt University, is investigating the weed-suppressive power of various cover crop species suited to either summer or winter fallows at three locations in the northern grain growing region Kingaroy, Narrabri and Wagga Wagga.

At the Kingaroy site, both winter and summer-growing cover crops were shown to suppress weeds by over 85 per cent and up to 95 per cent, compared to an untreated fallow where the sown weeds were not inhibited by a cover crop. While this level of control is worthwhile on its own, it is also backed up with either a chemical or non-chemical tool to terminate the cover crop and kill any survivor weeds.

In winter in Kingaroy, the best cover crops for weed control were grazing oats and tillage radish, says Annie. These species provided early season ground cover and suppressed our mimic annual grass weed, Italian ryegrass, by up to 94 per cent relative to the weeds-only fallow. None of the cover crop species we tried were able to suppress the quick-growing mimic broadleaf weed, Oriental mustard.

Winter-growing cover crop monocultures and mixtures.

In summer, Annie says the best cover crop options for Kingaroy were white French millet, Japanese millet, forage sorghum and buckwheat. Again, early-season biomass and ground cover was the key to suppression of both grass and broadleaf weed mimics by up to 95 per cent when compared to the weeds-only fallow.

Summer-growing cover crop monocultures and mixtures.

So far in this trial, there has been no measurable weed suppression benefit in sowing mixed species cover crops rather than monocultures. However, a mixed species cover crop may be preferred if a grower is wanting to achieve multiple outcomes. For example, grazing oats may be selected as a fast growing and highly competitive species and teamed with a less competitive legume to boost soil nitrogen stores.

Obviously, the species selected will depend on the growing region and soil type, she says. Cover crops also provide many other services to the farming system and so the grower could select a cover crop species, or mix of species, that would also provide a break from disease or insect pressure, increase moisture infiltration, build up organic matter or break down compaction.

Source: Charles Sturt University

Cover crops are an extension of the WeedSmart Big 6 tactic of providing crop competition to suppress weed growth and reduce the weed seed bank in an integrated weed management program.

Annie says that light interception is a critical driving force in the effectiveness of cover cropping for weed control. In selecting cover crops for weed suppression, choose species that grow well in your locality and that restrict light penetration to the soil through strong early growth and the development of a dense canopy. For greatest benefit, terminate cover crops at maximum biomass, which should coincide with the beginning of flowering; however, earlier termination may be required if soil moisture is limiting.

There is a large body of research work now underway to investigate other aspects of incorporating cover cropping into farming systems in various regions. While this work focuses on weed suppression, other researchers are looking into soil water and nutrient use efficiency under different conditions and in various cropping systems.

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Never cut the herbicide application rate

Scientific studies have demonstrated that resistance can rapidly evolve in weeds subjected to low doses of herbicide. Some weeds can develop resistance within a few generations. Full rates when mixing herbicides too! When mixing herbicides it is important that each product is still applied at the full label rate to ensure high mortality. Applying different chemicals in one mix can provide an additive advantage. It is important to understand the mode of action of each herbicide on the plant when preparing a herbicide mix. This is just as important for pre-emergent grass weed mixes as it is for post-emergent mixes aimed at broadleaf weed control. ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. Surrounding weed seeds with a combination of pre-emergent herbicides with different modes of action can give a high level of control and help extend the useful life of all the chemicals used. The high level of control must be supported with additional control measures for all survivors. All products with different modes of action must be applied at full label rates for this to be an effective strategy.   Mixing two chemicals with the same mode of action can achieve some additional efficacy, however, the mix should deliver the combined full rate to ensure a lethal dose. The amount of stubble present and crop safety are all important considerations when mixing chemicals. For example, when using a tank mix of Avadex® and trifluralin to control ryegrass in wheat, the rates used will vary depending on the sowing system and level of stubble retention. Be sure to get good advice. Many herbicides on the market are a combination of two or more modes of action within the one product. These products must be applied at the full label rate to be effective. Having dual action does not negate the need to change herbicide products and rotate modes of action. Repeated use of any single strategy will reduce the effectiveness of that strategy over time.  

Spray well – correct nozzles, adjuvants and water rates

Spray application is a technical field and growers need to make sure their equipment and application techniques are spot-on. The GRDC Spray Application GrowNote provides detailed information and about 80 videos to demonstrate key skills. Prevent spray-drift The focus of spraying herbicide needs to be on doing the job right so the weeds receive the correct dose and die, and this includes reducing the air borne fraction to a bare minimum. Bill Gordon’s 10 Tips for Reducing Spray Drift Choose all products in the tank mix carefully. Understand the product mode of action and coverage requirements. Select (and check) the coarsest spray quality that will provide effective control. Expect that surface temperature inversions will form as sunset approaches and will likely persist overnight and even beyond sunrise on many occasions. DO NOT SPRAY. Use weather forecasts to inform your spray decisions. Only start spraying when the sun is about 20 degrees above the horizon and when the wind speed has been above 4–5 km/hr for more than 20–30 minutes, and clearly blowing away from any adjacent sensitive crops or areas. Set the boom height to achieve a double overlap of the spray patterns. Avoid higher spraying speeds. Leave buffers unsprayed if necessary and come back. Continue to monitor conditions, particularly wind speed, at the site during the spray operation High water rates don’t have to slow you down Some growers are concerned that increasing the water rate when applying herbicide will slow down their spray operation and cost them money. However, the biggest financial loss during spraying usually comes from a failed spray job. To keep your spray operation as time efficient as possible when using more effective and reliable application volumes, you can: Use nurse tanks around the farm to reduce the time spent travelling back to a central re-fill point. Use a larger pump, e.g. 2.5 inch, to make re-filling quicker. Pre-mix the batch while the sprayer is operating. Many mixes can be held in the mixing tank for up to 6 hours. However, wettable granules and suspension concentrates will need agitation to keep them in solution. For pre-emergent herbicides in high stubble situations, carrier volume has a large effect on the level of control achieved. Across four trial sites Dr Borger’s research demonstrated that ryegrass control with trifluralin or Sakura® increased from 53% control when the carrier volume was 30 L/ha to 78% control when the carrier volume was increased to 150 L water/ha in high Water quality and mixing order Water quality is often overlooked as a possible contributor to herbicide failure and can lead to confusion over the herbicide resistance status of weeds on a property. Water should be considered as one of the chemicals in any mix, given that water quality varies markedly depending on its source. Getting the mixing order right is essential for effective spray results. Don’t start mixing until the water quality is right Podcast – Mixing herbicides Adjuvants Sometimes adding an adjuvant is beneficial and sometimes it is detrimental; and there is an art to knowing how to best deploy these additives. When weeds are susceptible to the applied herbicides, the effectiveness of adjuvants generally goes un-noticed. Correctly applied adjuvants can reduce the impact of low level herbicide resistance by helping to maximise the amount of herbicide taken up by the plant.

Clean borders – avoid evolving resistance on the fence line

About one-quarter of glyphosate-resistant populations within broadacre cropping situations across Australia come from fencelines and other non-cropping areas of the farm. Along paddock borders, where there is no crop competition, weeds can flourish and, if not controlled, set lots of seed. The traditional approach has been to treat these weeds with glyphosate to keep borders clean but after 20-odd years this option is now failing and paddock borders are becoming a significant source of glyphosate-resistant weed seed. Weed researcher Eric Koetz said the limited options for managing weeds along irrigation infrastructure and other non-crop areas is a problem and is putting additional pressure on knock-down herbicides in irrigated systems. In some situations, cultivation can be used to kill the weeds and provide a firebreak, but on light soils this may pose an erosion risk and mowing or slashing may be safer options. Another possible tactic is to continue using herbicides but to ensure that a clean-up operation is carried out before any survivors can set seed. Some growers are choosing to increase the heat on weeds along the borders by planting the crop right to the fence and then baling the outside lap and spraying with a knockdown herbicide to kill any weeds and provide a firebreak. Another good option in some situations is to maintain a healthy border of vegetation using non-invasive grasses. In Queensland, buffel grass is a good example of a grass that can outcompete other weeds while not invading crop lands. If only herbicides are used on fencelines, resistance is inevitable. Surviving weeds on fencelines have no competition and access to plenty of soil moisture, so they set a lot of seed and resistance can easily flow into neighbouring paddocks. Other resources It’s time for a glyphosate intervention Farm hygiene cottons on – Cleave Rogan, St George What’s new in management of herbicide resistant weeds on fencelines? Keeping the farm clean – Graham Clapham, Norwin Don’t jeopardise glyphosate for clean fencelines Keeping fencelines clean Resistance risk to knock-down herbicides on irrigated cotton farms

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