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How does mixing herbicide MOAs buy more shots?

With Rick Rundell-Gordon, Senior Agronomist, Grounded Agronomy.

Rotating herbicide modes of action ‘buys you time’, but mixing ‘buys you shots’.

When a herbicide is released on the market it has a fairly predictable number of uses or ‘shots’ before resistance to that mode of action begins to be evident in the weed population. For example, in-field experience and computer modelling both show that repeated use of glyphosate on a weed population will evolve full-blown glyphosate resistance in approximately 15 years. This effective lifespan ranges from around four years to over 20 years for the most commonly used herbicides, before resistance is evident.

Rick Rundell-Gordon, consultant agronomist with Grounded Agronomy, Swan Hill, says the widely-promoted and well-adopted practice of rotating between herbicide modes of action has the beneficial effect of ‘buying time’ because if a MOA is used once every two years the lifespan of the herbicide effectively doubles.

Rick Rundell-Gordon, Grounded Agronomy speaking at WeedSmart Week 2017 in Wagga Wagga about the science behind the ‘mix and rotate’ tactic to target multiple resistance mutations in weed populations.

“This means the herbicide remains a viable option for weed control for longer and the more diversity in herbicide MOAs applied, the longer the effective use is for all the herbicides in the program,” he says. “If a nil-tolerance approach is taken to weeds that survive a herbicide application then herbicide resistance is much less likely to evolve.”

“We now know that mixing two or more compatible herbicides with different modes of action can also increase the number of times an individual herbicide can be used within the herbicide program,” says Rick. “Mixing works by targeting different mutations within the weed population with the one spray application.”

For example, mixing trifluralin with another pre-emergent herbicide, both at full label rates, can increase the number of ‘shots’ of both herbicides across the cropping rotation. An important proviso is that the weed population must still have some susceptibility to all of the tank mix partners.

‘Mix and rotate MOA’ is so important it is one of the ‘Big 6’ WeedSmart strategies to manage herbicide resistance.

What evidence is there that mixing herbicide MOAs is effective in delaying herbicide resistance?
Short answer: Glyphosate resistance in waterhemp in the USA was less likely to occur when farmers used tank mixes.

Longer answer: Researchers from the University of Illinois, the USDA-ARS Global Change and Photosynthesis Research Unit, and the State University, New Mexico used spray records from a local spray contractor to compare 50 fields with glyphosate resistant waterhemp and 50 fields without. They looked at a total of 61 management and environmental variables and found that mixing herbicides was the single management strategy that made the most difference to whether or not glyphosate resistant waterhemp became a problem in any field.

In a review of herbicide application records from 2004 to 2006 and glyphosate resistance tests in 2010, the researchers found that adding more products to the tank at full rates for a single application causes the probability of resistance in these fields to decline sharply.

Peter Newman, AHRI says the evidence is mounting that ‘mixing and rotating herbicide MOAs buys you time and shots’.


When mixing herbicide modes of action, always use full label rates and ensure all products are compatible.

Is there any research to suggest that mixing pre-emergent herbicides could be effective?
Short answer: Computer modelling has demonstrated that the onset of herbicide resistance can be delayed when a mix and rotate strategy is used with pre-emergent herbicides to control annual ryegrass.

Longer answer: Based on research from the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative, the best advice to growers and agronomists is to rotate between these three groups of pre-emergent herbicides – 1. trifluralin, 2. Sakura, Boxer Gold and triallate and 3. propyzamide. Full label rates must be applied.

Assuming four herbicides available (trifluralin, prosulfocarb, pyroxasulfone and propyzamide) AHRI researcher Dr Roberto Busi has also simulated three different scenarios 1. use the same herbicide continuously (trifluralin or any other herbicide if the crop rotation permits), 2. follow a simple herbicide rotation pattern or 3. mix and rotate using two herbicides in each mix. The results show that mixtures are more effective than just rotating MOA in delaying resistance as mixes generally achieve a greater kill rate.

Rotate between the boxes, and avoid rotation between the blue boxes from year to year if possible. Mixing is also a good idea.

Is mixing and rotating herbicides all I need to do?
Short answer: No. Mixing and rotating herbicide modes of action can effectively lengthen the ‘life’ of a herbicide MOA on your farm but it will not prevent resistance on its own.

Longer answer: In addition to carefully selecting and managing herbicides it is necessary to also implement as many cultural (non-herbicide) tactics into your weed control program as possible. The overall aim of a sustainable weed management program is to use as many tactics as possible to keep weed numbers low, prevent weed seed set and remove all survivors.

Other resources:

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Ask an Expert

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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Ask an Expert

Does ambient temperature affect herbicide performance?

with Chris Preston, Associate Professor, Weed Management
 at 
The University of Adelaide Temperature affects the absorption, translocation and metabolic degradation of herbicides applied to plants. Herbicides applied under the wrong conditions can appear to fail, however the reason may not be herbicide resistance. Dr Chris Preston, Associate Professor, Weed Management
 at The University of Adelaide says most herbicides have a temperature range at which they are most effective in controlling target weeds. “Applying herbicides outside the optimal temperature range is likely to contribute to a spray failure, even in susceptible populations,” he says. “Alternatively, applying herbicides within the correct temperature range can improve the control in populations known to have a level of resistance to that herbicide.” Dr Chris Preston suggests testing whole plants rather than seed for responses to a range of post-emergent herbicides. The Quick-Test is conducted in the same growing season as herbicide will be applied so the testing will occur under similar conditions to field conditions. Dr Preston says the effect of frost on the efficacy of clethodim is a striking example. Spraying clethodim in non-frosty conditions achieves vastly better results than spraying after three days of frost, even on populations that are resistant to this chemical mode of action. “Combining the optimal temperature with optimal weed size will give the best results possible,” he says. “The current common practice of applying clethodim to tillered ryegrass in the coldest months is not making the best use of this herbicide.” As a general rule of thumb, Group A (fops), paraquat (Group L) and glyphosate (Group M) are more effective at lower temperatures while Group A (dims), atrazine (Group C) and glufosinate (Group N) are more effective at higher temperatures. However, weeds that are resistant to paraquat become less resistant in warmer temperatures. “The other implication of this research is the effect of ambient temperature on herbicide test results,” says Dr Preston. “Seed collected in winter and grown out in the glasshouse in summer will be tested for resistance in conditions that are not representative of field conditions when growers are next treating that weed species. The Quick-Test using whole plants overcomes this problem and improves the reliability of herbicide susceptibility testing.” How can I get the best performance out of clethodim? Short answer: Avoid applying clethodim during frosty periods. Longer answer: Twice as much clethodim is required to kill susceptible annual ryegrass if the product is applied after three days of frost. Even higher rates are required if the plants have resistance to clethodim. Planning to apply clethodim for grass control outside the coldest months of June and July, and avoiding night spraying in winter, will see better results in both resistant and susceptible populations, particularly in tillered plants. Clethodim is most active when temperatures are over 20 degrees C. Weed seed that is tested during summer may return false negative results, which could translate into spray failure in the field the next season. Twice as much clethodim is required to kill susceptible annual ryegrass if the product is applied after three days of frost. Even higher rates are required if the plants have resistance to clethodim. When it is it too hot for glyphosate? Short answer: Efficacy is much better at 20 degrees C than at 30 degrees C. Longer answer: Spraying glyphosate resistant barnyard grass at lower temperatures is more effective than under hotter conditions. If barnyard grass is tested for herbicide resistance during the cooler parts of the year it may appear susceptible to the field rate of glyphosate but then when this rate is applied to the population in summer there may be many survivors. When glyphosate is taken up rapidly it tends to limit its own translocation, which can mean that although symptoms may appear more rapidly in warmer temperatures, plant kill is less reliable. Which herbicide resistance test should I use? Short answer: The weed resistance Quick-Test for post-emergent herbicides. Longer answer: The Quick-Test involves testing whole plants rather than seed for responses to a range of herbicides and rates. The Quick-Test is conducted in the same growing season as herbicide will be applied so the testing will occur under similar conditions to field conditions. The results of the Quick-Test are available within the same season, potentially giving growers an opportunity to apply an effective weed control tactic before the end of the season. The Quick-Test is not available for many pre-emergent herbicides. The Quick-Test is available through Plant Science Consulting and results are normally available after four weeks. Relevant links Maximising clethodim performance and the impact of frost fact sheet Keeping clethodim working in broafleaf crops Plant Science Consulting herbicide resistance testing – Quick-Test GRDC Update Paper – New developments and understanding in resistance mechanisms and management

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Increase pre-em efficacy through a mix and rotate strategy

Part 1: Control summer weeds for yield and profit Every $1 spent on summer weed control can potentially return up to $8/ha through moisture and nitrogen conservation. The impact on grain yield as a result of various summer weed control treatments is what Colin McMaster (NSW DPI R&D) refers to as “buying a spring”.  Listen to Colin and Pete Newman (AHRI) as they investigate the $$ benefits of controlling summer weeds. Resources: Ask an Expert column with Colin McMaster GRDC Summer Fallow Weed Management Manual   Part 2: Increase pre-em efficacy through a mix and rotate strategy We’ve done a good job of promoting herbicide rotation over the years. And whilst this advice still stands, recent research shows the benefits of mixing herbicides as well. As American weeds researcher, Pat Tranel, puts it, “rotating buys you time, mixing buys you shots (of herbicide)”. Listen to Pat and Pete as they explore the benefits of the mix and rotate strategy.
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Post emergent herbicides

Resources Spray resistant radish early for best efficacy and yield (Grant Thompson, Crop Updates paper 2014) Herbicide resistant wild radish (Peter Newman) Controlling herbicide resistant Wild Radish in wheat in the Northern Agricultural Region of WA with a two spray strategy (Peter Newman) Diverse weed control: Left jab, right hook (AHRI insight)   Part 2:When is it worth rotating from clethodim (Select®) to butroxydim (Factor®)? Is there any value in rotating the post-emergent herbicides clethodim (Select®) and butroxydim (Factor®)? The research suggests that Factor® will sometimes kill plants that are moderately-resistant to Select® that could help in driving down the weed seed bank. Dr Peter Boutsalis from the University of Adelaide discusses his latest research and observations using both products with AHRI’s Peter Newman.

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Double breaks – a double shot at annual ryegrass

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RIM: Ryegrass Integrated Management

RIM is a hands on, user-friendly decision support software that allows farmers and advisors to evaluate the long-term cropping profitability of strategic and tactical ryegrass control methods, on the long-term and at the paddock scale. RIM lets you test your ideas: How can you run your ryegrass down and profit up? New rotation? New technique? View the full video here
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Sustaining herbicides with harvest weed seed management Rotate, rotate, rotate! Incorporating non-chemical harvest weed seed control methods into cropping systems provides another set of tools to fight weeds and to delay the onset of herbicide resistance. View full video at the AHRI website

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Farm Business Management Factsheet

Key points Effective decision-making is at the core of successful farm business management. Making informed, logical and timely business decisions is crucial to achieving business objectivess. Understand the different elements that influence how decisions are made and the possible outcomes. Consider who is responsible for the final decisions in the different areas of your farm business. Ensure the decision is finalised and implemented in a timely manner. Want to link to this fact sheet/publication? Full article can be found here
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Stewardship First SprayBest Guide

The application of herbicides late in the season to prevent weeds setting seed or to desiccate crops must be carried out with caution and in line with herbicide label recommendations. It is essential to check if these practices are acceptable to buyers, as in some situations markets have extremely low or even zero tolerance to some pesticide and herbicide residues.

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