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How to manage annual ryegrass in chickpea crops

with Bhagirath Chauhan, weeds researcher, QAAFI

Annual ryegrass is becoming increasingly prevalent in the northern cropping region, and many populations already have a high level of resistance to the major Group B and Group A herbicides registered for use in chickpea crops.

To keep this important crop as a viable option, growers are looking for ways to add non-chemical in-crop options to an integrated weed control program to prevent a yield-limiting blow-out in ryegrass populations.

QAAFI weeds researcher Baghirath Chauhan has completed several studies to investigate ways to make pulse crops, including chickpeas and mungbeans, more competitive against weeds.

The principles of crop competition are fairly well known but making the necessary changes to planting gear can be daunting, so it is important to know that any changes will achieve the desired effect.

To assist growers to better implement crop competition in chickpeas, A/Professor Bhagirath Chauhan, principal research fellow and weed team leader, QAAFI, UQ looked at the effect of narrow rows, variety and early weed control to assess which was the most powerful suppressant of annual ryegrass.

“In a weed-free environment, it has been shown that narrow-sown chickpeas will produce higher yield, so we wanted to see if narrow sowing also suppresses weed growth and seed set,” says Bhagirath. “We also wanted to understand whether a more-prostrate variety like PBA Seamer would suppress more weeds than the more-erect PBA HatTrick. The third aspect we considered was the effect of weed infestation at different growth stages of the crop.”

The results were pretty conclusive: PBA Seamer sown at 25 cm and kept weed-free for at least the first three weeks after planting is a winning combination for ryegrass control.

Crop competition is one of the WeedSmart ‘Big 6’ tactics that will be the centre of discussion at the two WeedSmart Week events this year, one in Emerald from 13 to 15 August and the other in Horsham from 27 to 29 August. To register go to www.weedsmart.org.au/events

What is the best way to reduce ryegrass growth and seed set?

Short answer: Narrowing the row spacing and ensuring good early weed control are the most effective tactics in chickpeas.

Longer answer: Plant architecture made some difference, but only in very weedy conditions. Narrowing row spacing from 75 cm to 25 cm reduced weed biomass by 16 per cent and reduced seed set by 26 per cent.

Keeping the crop weed-free for at least three weeks had the biggest effect, driving down weed biomass at the end of the season by 52 per cent and weed seed set by 48 per cent. This shows that, once established, chickpea can hold its own against weeds that emerge later in the season.

Can more competitive crops also produce higher grain yield?

Short answer: Yes. If you can’t do narrower rows then put an emphasis on early weed control.

Longer answer: Averaged across both cultivars and all weed infestation periods, sowing chickpeas on 25 cm row spacing (same seeding rate) produced 20 per cent more grain than sowing on 75 cm row spacing. This is most likely due to the crop plants being more evenly spaced and able to better exploit the available soil and light resources.

This research was conducted across two growing seasons and demonstrated that controlling annual ryegrass for the first three weeks after planting increased crop yield by a whopping 200 per cent compared to the season-long weedy scenario. Annual ryegrass that emerges 6 weeks or more after planting does not impact on chickpea yield, but if allowed to set seed, can contribute to the weed seed bank present at seeding the following year.

Is annual ryegrass a serious weed in chickpea?

Short answer: Yes, annual ryegrass is a yield-limiting weed and is adapting to farming systems further north than its traditional range.

Longer answer: Averaged over row spacing and cultivar, the penalty attributable to annual ryegrass was 1.2 t/ha less grain yield between the weed-free plots (1.8 t/ha) and the season-long weedy plots (0.6 t/ha). Without any competition, season-long weedy plots produced more than 129 annual ryegrass seed spikes per m2.

By planting PBA Seamer at 25 cm row spacing and keeping the crop weed-free for three weeks, the number of annual ryegrass spikes is reduced to just 8 per m2.  

How can I achieve this early weed control?

Short answer: Start the year ahead in the paddocks you plan to grow chickpeas and do everything possible to reduce the ryegrass seed bank using effective herbicides, weed seed burial, competitive cereals and harvest weed seed control tactics or hay-making. Back this up with registered pre-emergents for chickpea and as many non-herbicide tactics in-crop as possible.

Longer answer: Annual ryegrass is a master at evolving herbicide resistance. In southern regions it has evolved resistance to the registered in-crop herbicides for chickpeas. This will also occur in the northern region if steps are not taken to preserve the efficacy of Group A post-emergent chemistry across the crop sequence.

An over-reliance on pre-emergent herbicide use will also select for herbicide resistance, just as it has for post-emergent herbicides. To minimise this risk, it is important to use a diverse range of weed management tactics in-crop, such as crop competition, inter-row cultivation or chipping, to remove survivor weeds before they set seed. Where possible, rotate registered pre-emergent herbicide modes of action groups J, D and K between years and consider mixing pre-emergent modes of action groups where permitted, always at full label rates for all active components of the mix. ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW LABEL INSTRUCTIONS.

Other resources:

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What can I do at harvest to reduce my future weed burden?

As crops mature and harvesters begin reaping, consider the potential fate of seeds ripening on weeds that escaped in-crop control measures.
Peter Newman, WeedSmart’s western extension agronomist, says harvest time is an important opportunity to assess weed burden across the farm and be proactive about driving down the weed seed bank.
“Harvest can either be a super-spreader or a weed suppressing event,” he says. “Small patches of weeds can quickly expand when seed is blown out the back of the harvester. On the other hand, the harvester can be a powerful weed management tool if any one of the harvest weed seed control options are implemented.”
WeedSmart’s western extension agronomist, Peter Newman says efforts made to reduce the spread of weed seed at harvest will soon pay off for growers.
Australian growers have led the world in inventing and adopting harvest weed seed control tools such as impact mills, chaff carts, chaff decks and chaff lining, all of which can reliably destroy over 90 per cent of the weed seed that enters the front of the harvester.    
“In addition to harvest weed seed control there are several other actions in the WeedSmart Big 6 that growers can implement just prior to, during and immediately after harvest that will make a measurable difference to the weed burden in future growing seasons,” says Peter. “The WeedSmart Big 6 tactics are scientifically-proven to reduce the risk of herbicide resistance through diverse herbicide use and cultural control to prevent weed seed set.”
What can I do before harvest to manage late emerged weeds?
In brief: Scout for and map weedy patches. Consider sacrificing small areas of high density weeds. Swathing can be a very effective way to stop seed set of late emerged or resistant weeds. Collect weed seeds for herbicide susceptibility testing.
The details: Growers across Australia use a variety of methods to map weeds – from the simple to the sublime. ‘Dropping a pin’ using the tractor’s GPS mapping system as you travel through a weedy section when spraying or harvesting is easy and provides useful information about the distribution of weeds in the paddock. Many growers have their own drones and use them the collect images or video footage of the crop that can be viewed or analysed to identify high density weed patches.
Collect seed for herbicide susceptibility testing – knowing what still works is vital information for planning next season’s herbicide program. There are three herbicide testing facilities in Australia that are equipped to test weed seed samples – Plant Science Consulting, CSU Herbicide Resistance Testing and UWA Herbicide Resistance Testing.
Collecting weed 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.
Keep samples from different locations separate and details noted on the bag. Only use paper bags (double layer) to collect and send seed samples. Ensure bags are sealed so that the samples don’t mix during transit.
Which harvest weed seed control tool is best for my situation?
In brief: There are six harvest weed seed control tools used in Australia – impact mills, chaff decks, chaff lining, chaff carts, bale direct and narrow windrow burning. Choose the one that best suits your system and budget.
The details: Impact mills are best suited to continuous cropping situations. Residues are retained and evenly spread. Chaff decks have lower capital cost and are well-suited to controlled traffic situations. Chaff carts are popular with grain producers who also run livestock. Bale direct is also expensive but has a good fit in locations where there is access to straw markets. Chaff lining is currently the best ‘entry level’ system and can be used in CTF or non-CTF systems, with best results where the harvester runs on the same track each year. Chaff lining has essentially superseded narrow windrow burning, overcoming the time required and risks involved in burning and reducing the loss of nutrients from the system.
If you haven’t used harvest weed seed control tools before, it doesn’t take long to build and fit a chaff lining chute ready for use this harvest season.
What should I be ready to do straight after harvest?
In brief: Spraying weeds immediately after harvest is fairly common practice. Weeds present may be close to maturity or fresh germinations of summer-active weed species.
The details: Some growers get in early with knockdown herbicide applied under the cutter bar when swathing barley or canola. Consider using the double knock strategy, heavy grazing pressure and possibly a soil residual herbicide that is compatible with your planned crop rotation. Pay particular attention to any weedy patches identified before or during harvest. Stopping seed set at every opportunity is the crux of an effective weed management program.
Give some thought to what might be the underlying cause of weedy patches – fixing problems such as pH and soil nutrition imbalances, waterlogging and spray practices that routinely deliver low doses of herbicide.

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What’s the benefit of a double paraquat knockdown?

The ‘double knock’ strategy has long been used and promoted as a valuable tool in the battle against glyphosate resistance in weeds, with paraquat typically applied to control weeds that survived the ‘first knock’ of glyphosate.  
James Jess, research and technical services manager, Western AG in Ballarat, says growers in his client group and beyond have used a double paraquat application to great effect this year, and avoided a very serious blow-out of glyphosate resistant annual ryegrass.
James Jess, research and technical services manager, Western AG in Ballarat. (Source: Syngenta)
“The 2020 season did not provide an opportunity for an effective pre-seeding knockdown and growers across the higher rainfall zones of Victoria found many large, well-tillered ryegrass plants flourishing in their crops,” he says. “We sent samples to Peter Boutsalis at Plant Science Consulting and the results of the Quick Test showed high levels of glyphosate resistance.”
The live plant samples sent to Plant Science Consulting were tested for their response to rates from 2 to 5 L/ha of 600 g active ingredient glyphosate, and many survived rates of 4 L/ha and above. Given the high level of resistance, Western AG put down a trial to compare a range of double knock options so they could give their clients more confidence going into the 2021 season.    
“We knew that the surviving plants growing in fields across the district would be setting a huge amount of seed and that growers would face a devastating situation unless we took decisive and effective action in 2021,” says James. “In the badly infested patches growers also took measures to reduce the amount of seed entering the seed bank at the end of the 2020 season using hay cutting or harvest weed seed control. In paddocks with mainly glyphosate susceptible ryegrass, desiccating feed barley is also a good way to drive down weed numbers.”
‘Double-knock to protect glyphosate’ is one of the WeedSmart Big 6 tactics, which will be the centre of discussion at WeedSmart Week in Esperance, WA in August this year. This flagship event always attracts growers from interstate keen to see how other farmers are keeping weed numbers low in different systems. Early bird registration is now open.
What double-knock options did you trial?
In brief: 1. Glyphosate followed by paraquat and 2. two sequential paraquat applications.
The details: A series of timings were also tested for both the double knock options. Each of the ‘second knocks’ were applied 3, 7 and 12 days after the first knock application.
The two paraquat applications either 3 or 7 days apart were clearly effective in the trial, with the first paraquat application providing 90 per cent control of the glyphosate resistant ryegrass. This means that in a year where it is not possible to implement a double knock, we know that a single application of paraquat at robust rates will still do a good job of reducing weed numbers.

Get more details from the Western AG trial site report.
What advice did you give your clients going in to the 2021 season?
In brief: Delay seeding and implement a double paraquat knockdown.
The details: It was essential to get on top of the glyphosate resistance in ryegrass and avoid a blow-out. Last season the resistance level was high but the plants were still mainly found in manageable patches. Given the amount of seed that was likely added to the seed bank and potentially spread during harvest, it was essential that extra emphasis was put on having a clean seedbed going in to the 2021 season.
Once an effective knockdown has been applied we then recommend growers use a pre-emergent herbicide to reduce weed emergence when the crop is young. Later germinations are then suppressed by the competitive crop. In our trial we used Sakura incorporated by sowing (IBS), which provided excellent early weed control.
Has the recommendation been adopted successfully?
In brief: Yes, rapid and widespread adoption.
The details: There was immediate adoption of this tactic in response to the situation that emerged last season in the high rainfall zone of Victoria. Over 70 per cent of the Western AG client base in the higher rainfall western districts of Victoria implemented a double-paraquat application pre-seeding to target glyphosate resistant ryegrass before seeding the 2021 winter crop. This high level of adoption was a result of the strategy being actively promoted to clients, with the trial results giving growers the confidence to implement the recommendation.
The Western AG double knock trial last year provided growers with the confidence they needed to take decisive action on glyphosate resistant ryegrass before seeding the 2021 crop.
The blow-out was a real eye-opener for growers about how important it is to keep weed numbers low and the resistance mechanisms in play for all agricultural chemicals – not just herbicides.
The double paraquat tactic is also a good knockdown prior to sowing Roundup Ready canola to meet the stewardship requirements for using the RR technology.
Although resistance to paraquat is currently quite rare in annual ryegrass, it has been found in situations where paraquat has been applied at sub-lethal rates over a long period of time. There have also been new cases of paraquat resistance confirmed, and identified as developing, in ryegrass populations in WA, SA, Victoria and NSW this year.
With this in mind, a simple switch to double paraquat as a pre-seeding knockdown is not recommended as a standard practice but rather as a strategic tactic to contain glyphosate resistance in ryegrass. Once that has been achieved, a set of diverse strategies, including herbicide mixes, must be implemented and any survivors must be removed before they set seed.
Resources

Western AG Double knock field demo results – 2020
Double paraquat and RR canola – Podcast with Mark Lawrence 

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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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