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Crop competition halves weed seed numbers

Wheat and canola crops offer growers some really practical options to improve crop competition against weeds, particularly grasses, and vastly reduce weed seed set.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide, led by Dr Chris Preston and with GRDC investment, conducted an extensive study to identify the agronomic factors that promote strong early crop growth.

They found that simple strategies of growing hybrid canola and sowing wheat early, can couple with pre-emergent herbicides to achieve a very effective double-knock. The result is more yield, less weed seed produced and less selection pressure on the herbicides.

“In the canola trial we used a range of pre-emergent herbicides and compared open pollinated and hybrid canola,” says Chris. “The bottom line of our trial is that if you grow a hybrid canola with pre-emergent herbicides and do nothing else different, you’re going to reduce your grass weed seed set by 50 per cent.”

If you grow a hybrid canola with pre-emergent herbicides (left) and do nothing else different, you’re going to reduce your grass weed seed set by 50 per cent (right, conventional canola and no pre-emergent herbicide).

This level of non-herbicide weed control was also measured in an Australian-first study that looked at the competitive ability of 16 canola genotypes against annual ryegrass and volunteer wheat over two contrasting seasons, led by Professor Deirdre Lemerle at Charles Sturt University.

In a separate trial conducted by Rohan Brill, former research and development agronomist, NSW DPI based in Wagga Wagga, and colleagues at Trangie and Tamworth, a rule of thumb was established that seed size had a greater effect on early biomass production in canola than did cultivar type (hybrid vs OP). This gave rise to the recommendation that all farmer-retained OP canola seed be cleaned and graded to collect planting seed that is 2 mm in diameter or larger.

Their study showed that sowing large canola seed, regardless of the cultivar, is key to strong early crop growth and the crop’s ability to compete with weeds.

Having observed that later planted wheat often hosts more weeds, the Adelaide University team looked at the effect of planting wheat as early as possible.

“Our previous idea for managing weedy paddocks was to delay sowing, apply another knockdown treatment to control more weeds and then put the crop in,” says Chris. “In this trial we found that even in weedy paddocks you can put the wheat in early with a robust pre-emergent herbicide package, and the result is more wheat yield and less ryegrass seed at the end of the season.”

Dr Chris Preston, University of Adelaide, says if you sow the right wheat variety early and apply the right pre-emergent herbicide package, you can halve your grass weed numbers, just from competition in the middle part of the season, and you don’t have to change anything else.

“If you sow the right variety early and apply the right pre-emergent herbicide package, again you can halve your grass weed numbers, just from competition in the middle part of the season and you don’t have to change anything else.”

There are a few practicalities to consider when looking to sow wheat earlier. Firstly, you need to choose a variety that will still flower in the right flowering window for your location. If you are sowing several weeks earlier than normal you need a longer season variety to manage frost and heat risk at the end of the season.

Crop competition trial site at Roseworthy, SA.

Secondly, if you are sowing completely dry, then most of the pre-emergent herbicide options are open to you. If there is some soil moisture, but not enough for crop germination, some of the pre-emergent herbicides will not perform well. You need to give careful consideration to your choice of herbicide to suit the environmental conditions of each season.

These findings underpin WeedSmart’s aim, to promote farming systems that produce ‘more yield and less weeds’.

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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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