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Does pre-emergent herbicides help combat alphabet-resistant ryegrass?

with Chris Preston, University of Adelaide

The new decade is bringing with it some truly new pre-emergent herbicides with activity on annual ryegrass. With multiple-resistance to current pre-emergent herbicides looming large, it is essential that plans are put in place to ensure that these new herbicides can do the job of keeping ryegrass numbers low well into the future.  

Dr Chris Preston, Professor, Weed Management at The University of Adelaide has watched the multiple-resistance and cross-resistance story unfold through the weed surveys and grower submissions to the testing services across southern Australia.

Dr Chris Preston, University of Adelaide, says the recent and pending releases of a suite of new pre-emergent herbicides will broaden the options for growers to mix and rotate through the crop sequence, but they will not fix the ryegrass problem on their own and should not be considered the new ‘go-to’ products.

“Annual ryegrass is well-known for its ability to evade different herbicide modes of action,” he says. “In recent years we have found a number of populations that have resistance to pre-emergent herbicides in Groups J, K and D.”

The herbicide resistance ‘picture’ in Australia is based on randomly-selected weed samples collected during official weed surveys and samples that growers or agronomists send in for testing, often following an apparent failure of a herbicide in the field.

“Through herbicide resistance testing we are finding that an increasing number of ryegrass populations have ‘alphabet resistance’, that is, resistance to multiple modes of action,” says Chris. “That doesn’t mean that none of the herbicides work, some will still have good efficacy in the field, but possibly not for long. It is a clear indication that the ‘mix and rotate’ strategy must be implemented across the crop sequence.”

Two recently-released pre-emergent herbicides (in Groups K and Z) and two more (in Groups Q, E) in the final stages of registration with release expected in 2020 or 2021, will broaden the options growers have to keep ryegrass numbers down.

Coupling the mix and rotate strategy for pre-emergent herbicides with strong crop competition is a winning combination within the WeedSmart Big 6.

What’s the difference between multiple-resistant and cross-resistant weeds?

Short answer: Multiple resistance is due to multiple genes present in the plant conferring resistance to several herbicides while cross-resistance involves a single gene conferring resistance to several herbicides.

Longer answer:

Multiple-resistance is where a weed possesses multiple resistance mechanisms that allow it to evade several different herbicide modes of action. Mixing and rotating between the available herbicides is the best option as the population will have varying levels of resistance and some herbicides will still be effective.

Cross-resistance is where a weed possesses a single resistance mechanism that enables it to evade multiple herbicide modes of action. Cross-resistance can make a weed resistant to a herbicide that it has never been exposed to. For example, resistance to Groups J and K appears to be genetically linked in some populations, with examples of Group J use selecting for resistance to Group K, and vice versa. In this situation, rotating between Groups J and K will not be sustainable. A broader herbicide strategy will be required to keep these two groups as viable options in the farming system.

Resistance to one herbicide in a MOA group does not mean the population is resistant to all herbicides in that group. For example, in Group D resistance to trifluralin is quite widespread while resistance to propyzamide, also Group D, is rare and populations can usually be controlled by using the full rate of propyzamide. Similarly, resistance to Group K Butisan is being seen in the field while Sakura, also Group K, is still effective.

The term ‘alphabet resistance’ covers all populations that have resistance to several herbicides – often both pre-emergent and post-emergent use patterns.

What are the new herbicides?

Short answer: Luximax® (cinmethylin, Group Z) is now registered and available for use in 2020, carbetamide (Group E) is approved and a Group Q active is pending approval from the APVMA. They follow the recently-released Group K herbicide Devrinol-C® (napropamide) that belongs to a unique chemical class (acetamides) within Group K.

Longer answer: The release of these new pre-emergent herbicides will broaden the options for growers to mix and rotate through the crop sequence. They will not fix the ryegrass problem on their own and should not be considered the new ‘go-to’ products. Annual ryegrass across Australia has been exposed to herbicides over a long period of time and populations can be expected to possess multiple resistance mechanisms.

In the face of increasing cross-resistance in annual ryegrass it is conceivable that some weed populations may challenge these new herbicides as a result of previous exposure to other herbicides. This highlights the importance of using the right mixing partners to ensure these new herbicides can be effective tools for ryegrass control.

Annual ryegrass has been exposed to many different herbicides and there are now populations that have ‘alphabet resistance’, that is resistance to multiple modes of action. Seed testing can reveal what products still work. Photo: CSU

How do I set up an effective mix and rotate strategy for pre-emergent herbicides?

Short answer: Get some resistance testing done on seed from ‘survivor’ ryegrass plants to see what still works; and boost crop competition.

Longer answer: Knowing what works is the first step. This involves collecting ryegrass seed and running tests with multiple herbicides. This can be done every five years or so as resistance to pre-emergent herbicides evolves relatively slowly.

Once you know what the pre-emergent options are, look for opportunities to mix and rotate the herbicide groups throughout the crop sequence. If there are limited options for one crop, be sure to ‘save’ those options for exclusive use in that crop. Where there are opportunities to mix pre-emergent herbicides, take them. Always apply the mixing partners at full label rates.

Growing a competitive crop is an important tactic in maintaining low weed numbers and delaying resistance to pre-emergent herbicides.

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How do you manage summer weeds without spraying at night?

Concerns are being raised about the practical implications of this for summer weed control programs. Mary O’Brien, a private consultant with extensive experience in managing spray drift, is keen to see growers fully adopt spray application practices that maximise herbicide efficacy and minimise off-target drift.   Mary O’Brien says the ‘community drift’ that can occur when a number of applicators are each putting a small amount of product in the air at the same time can have very damaging effects on off-target sites. “The bottom line is that allowing spray to drift is like burning money,” she says. “Any product that doesn’t hit the target is wasted and the efficacy of the spray job is reduced, mildly resistant biotypes may survive as a result of low dose application and there is potential damage to sensitive crops and the environment.” “The difficulty is that many growers want to spray at night to cover more ground when conditions are cooler and potentially weeds are less stressed. Having a restriction on night spraying does restrict the time available to cover the areas required.” Having heard these concerns from growers across the country Mary keeps coming back to the fact that if there was a limitation to capacity at planting or at harvest, growers would scale up to get the job done in a timely manner. “Buying another spray rig or employing a contractor is an additional cost, especially after a couple of tough seasons, but I really think this is insignificant against the cost of losing key products and the resultant escalation in herbicide resistance to the remaining herbicides,” says Mary. “This problem is not confined to 2,4-D or even to herbicides. I recently spoke to a stone fruit grower who was forced to dump his whole crop after a positive MRL return for a fungicide he had never even heard of, let alone used.” What about just slowing down and lowering the boom during night spraying? Short answer: This, coupled with a good nozzle, will reduce drift but it will never eliminate it. Longer answer: The correct ground speed and boom height will have a large effect on the amount of product that remains in the air. The problem is that it only takes 1 per cent of the product remaining in the air to cause off-target damage. Once there are a few operators putting just 1 per cent of their product in the air at the same time, the amount of product quickly accumulates and can potentially be very damaging. Mary calls this ‘community drift’. Isn’t it better to spray weeds at night when it’s cooler? Short answer: Not really. Longer answer: Research by Bill Gordon showed that even if you keep everything else the same, night spraying can put at least three times more product in the air than daytime application, even if weather conditions are similar and there is no temperature inversion in place. The main difference between day and night is how the wind is moving across the landscape, rather than the wind speed. Under inversion conditions, the air moves parallel to the ground surface and this means that the product can move significant distances away from the target before coming to the ground. To achieve the best results through daytime spraying, applicators should focus on treating small, actively growing weeds. When there is good soil moisture, weeds are unlikely to be stressed even when the temperature is quite high. Temperature inversion conditions are more common at night and in the early morning. These conditions generate a laminar flow of air across the landscape allowing small droplets to travel many kilometres away from the target site before coming to ground. Can I use other products at night and just avoid using 2,4-D? Short answer: The current changes to 2,4-D labels has drawn a lot of attention but the problem is the same for all crop protection sprays – herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. Longer answer: Different products have different properties and some may work better at night but the problem is the sensitivity of some crops to certain products, such as 2,4-D. All products are tested for their efficacy and the label provides detailed information about the required spray quality and spray application conditions. Many products have explicit label instructions regarding wind speed, temperature inversions (or laminar flow) and night spraying. Given the high risk of drift at night, applicators need to be very confident that there is no inversion present, and weather conditions should be measured at least every 15 minutes to ensure wind speed remains above 11 kilometres per hour. An on-board weather station is the best way to monitor conditions. A visual demonstration using smoke to simulate the the lateral movement of small spray droplets when a temperature inversion is in place. What can I do to improve spray efficacy and avoid spray drift? Short answer: If you do just one thing – change your nozzle. Longer answer: All the factors that increase drift also reduce efficacy. To improve efficacy and reduce drift, use a better nozzle (larger spray quality) and appropriate water rates (matched to spray quality and stubble load), slow down and keep the boom low. Wind is required to push product downward and onto the target, and remember that the 3–15 km/h wind speed is for day time conditions only, this does not apply at night.
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Testing for herbicide resistance

“Testing takes the guesswork out of the equation and gives farmers baseline information that they can use to monitor changes in the weeds on their farms,” he said. “If low level resistance is identified early there are many more management options available compared to situations where full blown resistance has taken hold.” Dr Boutsalis said the over use and over reliance on particular herbicides will unavoidably lead to herbicide resistance developing. “We often hear of farmers applying herbicide even though they are not sure if it will work,” he said. The $300 to $400 cost of testing is insignificant compared to the cost of wasted herbicide, lost production and the costs of driving down a large seed bank of resistant weeds. What herbicide resistance tests are available to farmers in Australia? Short answer: The ‘quick’ test using the whole plant and the ‘seed’ test. Longer answer: The ‘quick’ test uses plant samples collected on farm and sent to the laboratory. The plants are revived and planted into pots then tested against the required herbicides. The ‘seed’ test requires the collection of ripe seed, which is planted out at the laboratory. After dormancy has been broken and the seedlings have started to grow they are tested for their response to herbicides. Both tests are equally accurate. The ‘quick’ test can not test for resistance to some pre-emergent herbicides, such as trifluralin. Which is the most common test that farmers use? Short answer: The seed test. Longer answer: Collecting seed before or at harvest is the most common method used. The collected seed must be mature, from green to when the seed changes colour. Before harvest collect 30 to 40 ryegrass seedheads or several handfuls of wild oats seed. After harvest it is common to find seedheads still in the paddock or samples of contaminated grain can be sent for analysis. Where is the best place to collect samples? Short answer: From suspicious or high risk areas. Longer answer: Herbicide resistance can develop in high risk areas like fencelines or at random through a paddock. Visual observations and changes on the yield monitor in the header can indicate good places to collect seed. If collecting plant samples, look for weeds at the early tillering stage that appear to have ‘escaped’ previous herbicide treatment. Collect 50 to 100 small plants or fewer larger plants. Shake off the soil from the roots, place in a plastic bag and send to the laboratory. What’s involved in sending samples? Short answer: Pick, pack, register and ship. Longer answer: Each sample needs to arrive at the laboratory with suitable identification and instructions. Register the samples online to get a unique sample number and to provide the information required, such as which herbicides you want to test against. Plant Science Consulting and Charles Sturt University both offer commercial herbicide resistance seed testing. Find the details under Point 4 of the 10 Point Plan on the WeedSmart website.   How to ask a WeedSmart question Ask your questions about the spread of herbicide resistance, or any herbicide resistance management strategy, using this blog or using Twitter @WeedSmartAU.

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