Read time: 4 minutes

Gearing up to use pre-emergent herbicides

Pre-emergent herbicides are not without their challenges. Working out the best pre-emergent herbicide choice for a particular situation requires a thorough knowledge of how the herbicide works.

Dr Chris Preston, University of Adelaide (UA) Associate Professor—Weed Management says some of the earlier practices regarding pre-emergent herbicides need to be reconsidered in the light of greater experience under different field conditions and changes in sowing technology.

Competitive (right) v non-competitive canola — growers can take advantage of the canola varieties with greater competitive ability.

Competitive (right) v non-competitive canola — growers can take advantage of the canola varieties with greater competitive ability.

The latest recommendations from research in the high rainfall zones of southern Australia can be summed up as: sow a competitive crop early, on the first opening rain, with pre-emergent herbicide; sow the cleanest paddocks last and implement harvest weed seed control.The latest recommendations from research in the high rainfall zones of southern Australia can be summed up as: sow a competitive crop early, on the first opening rain, with pre-emergent herbicide; sow the cleanest paddocks last and implement harvest weed seed control.

“Pre-emergent herbicides on the market vary in their water solubility, ability to bind to soil components, behaviour under different soil moisture conditions and rate of degradation over time,” he says. “Unfortunately, the seasonal conditions that unfold can have a significant effect on the efficacy of any product applied. For example, some products are not well suited to higher rainfall zones because multiple weed germinations are more likely and by later in the season the herbicide has dissipated or moved too far down the soil profile to have any effect on later germinations.”

One solution to this problem is the pre-emergent application of trifluralin followed with the recently registered use of Boxer Gold applied post-emergent. This relies on rainfall to incorporate the Boxer Gold and has provided excellent control, even of trifluralin-resistant weeds.

The method that provided the highest level of control in the high rainfall zone was pre-emergent Sakura + Boxer Gold post-emergent.

A third option for the high rainfall areas is Sakura + Avadex. This is also expensive but provided a high level of control, and avoids using Boxer Gold in wheat, leaving it to be used in other crops in the rotation.

“Keep in mind that Sakura can only be used in wheat crops so it is good to avoid using Boxer Gold in both wheat and barley crops. Sakura + Avadex may be a better choice in the wheat crop rather than Sakura + Boxer Gold,” he says. “There is a very high risk of losing Boxer Gold as an effective herbicide if it is used frequently in a rotation, so it is essential to plan herbicide use across the crop rotation and use different chemicals in break crops.”

Early (left) v late sown cereals — ryegrass head count was lower in early sown crop.

Early (left) v late sown cereals — ryegrass head count was lower in early sown crop.

These combinations of herbicides aim to reduce seed head production through season-long control but rely on harvest weed seed control to manage any survivors.

“Herbicide resistance has been shown to occur rapidly if these new chemistries are used unwisely,” says Dr Preston. “They can be part of a weed management plan but must not be relied on without the implementation of supporting non-chemical tactics, including harvest weed seed control and competitive cropping.”

For pre-emergent herbicides to be effective the chemical needs to be in the right place at the right time—beginning with the right stubble management, sowing equipment and sowing depth. “The guiding principle is that the pre-emergent herbicide must be in contact with the soil to have any effect. Some products wash off stubble better than others and so stubble load and whether it is standing or laying flat will influence the efficacy of the pre-emergent,” says Dr Preston. “Large droplets and high water rates are generally required when stubble is present to ensure the herbicide reaches the soil.”

Dr Preston’s trial work clearly demonstrated that planting equipment, such as single disc seeders, which do not remove soil from on top of the crop row, causes an increased incidence of crop damage from pre-emergent herbicides. He says there is a need to make some compromise in a zero till system to ensure soil containing the herbicide was thrown to one side as the crop seed is sown. “It is also important that the planter closes the seeding slot, particularly if a product such as Boxer Gold is to be applied post-emergent,” he says.

Sowing date is also important. Initial research suggests that sowing early, while the temperatures are still warm, with a fast growing crop and pre-emergent herbicide will suppress early weed germinations and any later germinations will occur under the crop canopy and be less likely to out-compete the crop.

“What we saw with later sown crops was that ryegrass was able to grow above the crop canopy and competition from the crop did not affect ryegrass seed head production,” he says. “This suggests that sowing weedy paddocks as early as possible with a pre-emergent herbicide could be a very useful tactic in helping to drive down weed seed production, particularly when harvest weed seed control is added to the system.”

To hear more from Dr Preston on his trial work with pre-emergent herbicides in the high rainfall zones of southern Australia, watch the ‘Setting crops up for success’ webinar recording available here.

Related Articles

View all

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

Subscribe to the WeedSmart Newsletter