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Narrow row spacing: is it worth going back?

Narrow row spacing can deliver an average 6% yield increase along with a 98% decrease in annual ryegrass seed heads—more crop, less weeds.

Forward thinking DAFWA researcher Glen Riethmuller has recorded significant yield benefits in wheat sown at narrow row spacing, along with a remarkable suppression of weed numbers in a 28-year long trial at Merredin Research Station.

Forward thinking DAFWA researcher Glen Riethmuller has recorded significant yield benefits in wheat sown at narrow row spacing, along with a remarkable suppression of weed numbers in a 28-year long trial at Merredin Research Station.

Nearly thirty years ago, forward thinking researchers in Western Australia laid out a row width trial at Merredin Research Station to investigate the effect of stubble retention versus stubble burning. Ten years into the trial they found herbicide resistant annual ryegrass was becoming a problem in the wide row plots.

The research team decided to introduce rotation crops to the trial site in an effort to rotate chemical groups and bring the weeds under control. While the thinking was sound it was not very successful in the wide row plots.

This scenario has played out on minimum tillage farms around Australia, eking away the potential gains through better moisture conservation.

Glen Riethmuller is the Department of Agriculture and Food acting Technical Services Manager responsible for the design and management of this long-term trial in WA that Steve Porritt initiated in 1987.

“The average yield from the 15 wheat crops has been 5.7% higher in the retained stubble plots compared to plots where the stubble is burnt,” he said. “When it comes to row width we find yield decreasing by an average 0.4% for every centimetre, or 1% loss per inch, as the row spacing increases over 180 mm (7 inches).”

For wheat crops sown at 360 mm (14 inches) this equates to an average 6.8 per cent yield loss due to increased row width when sown into burnt stubble and a huge 7.9 per cent loss in stubble retained situations. Left: wide rows. Right: narrow rows.

Left: narrow rows. Right: wide rows.

For wheat crops sown at 360 mm (14 inches) this equates to an average 6.8% yield loss due to increased row width when sown into burnt stubble and a huge 7.9% loss in stubble retained situations. In the six pulse crops (2 field pea, 1 faba bean, 1 lentil and 2 chickpea) the retention of stubble and row spacing had little effect on yield. The two canola crops showed little response to stubble management but a sizeable response to row spacing with yield declining 1% for every centimetre row spacing increase over 180 mm.

Left: narrow rows. Right: wide rows.

Left: narrow rows. Right: wide rows.

Further narrowing the rows to 90 mm increased yields in most stubble situations, indicating that very narrow rows can improve yields even in the low rainfall zones.

When these yield results are considered together with the effect of narrow rows on weed seed heads, the case for narrower rows becomes very compelling. All plots were treated with full rates of herbicide yet annual ryegrass remained a problem in the wider row plots while there was a 98% reduction in ryegrass seed heads in 2013 in the narrow rows plots.

In the narrow row stubble retained plots, ryegrass head counts in 2013 were very low at 0.17 heads per m2 compared to 7.67 seed heads per m2 at 360 mm row spacing. This is a great example of how well herbicides work in the presence of competition.

“Our experience with managing weeds in the trial sites has been that none of the available herbicide options are able to overcome the extra weed pressure in wider rows,” he said. “We typically used trifluralin pre-sowing at 1 L/ha for ryegrass control in the trial. In two years we tried 2 L/ha and it made no difference to ryegrass control in the wide row plots.”

In recent years the researchers have switched to using full label rates of the new herbicides Sakura® and Boxer Gold® pre-sowing.

“Finding ways to practically sow through stubble at the narrowest row spacing possible is the way to grow more grain, reduce herbicide costs and combat herbicide resistance in weeds.”

These results were confirmed across the country when researchers examined data from 89 wheat experiments measuring the effect of row width. “The consistent message from the data was that widening row spacing is an enabling method of dealing with high stubble load but there is always a yield penalty in doing so,” said Mr Riethmuller. “The penalty is greatest in high production areas where the yield potential is highest. There is no question that growers are best off sowing at the narrowest practical row spacing possible.”

“At narrow rows and lower seeding rate along the row we see the highest germination rate and overall plant density,” he said. “High seeding rates along wider rows has lower establishment rates as the crop plants compete for resources or are affected by high fertiliser rates close to the row. In canola, planting on narrow rows could cut seed costs in half while increasing yield.”

Crops sown on narrow rows achieve full canopy cover quickly, reducing evaporation from the soil. With precision planting equipment now available Mr Riethmuller believes planting between rows can achieve great benefits in disease and soil nutrient management.

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What to expect at WeedSmart Week 2021

Big 6 at WeedSmart Week 2021 – Double knock to protect glyphosate
The WeedSmart Forum is set for Tuesday 17 August, 2021 at the Civic Centre in Esperance WA. The program features growers, agronomists and researchers discussing ways to use the BIG 6 to beat crop weeds. You can register for the 3-day WeedSmart Week event here.
Greg Warren from Farm and General in Esperance will be sharing his thoughts on the control of weeds like summer-germinating ryegrass, marshmallow, fleabane and portulaca.
He says the growers around Esperance are tackling glyphosate resistance in annual ryegrass, along with brome and barley grass and other emerging weeds using a range of integrated control tactics. The double knock plays a key role in preserving glyphosate (and soil moisture) and providing a clean seed bed for planting crops.

 
Big 6 at WeedSmart Week 2021 – Increase crop competition
WeedSmart Week 2021 is set for Tuesday 17 to Thursday 19 August, 2021 in and around Esperance WA. The last two days feature local growers hosting visits to their farms and discussing how they use the BIG 6 to beat crop weeds. You can register for the 3-day WeedSmart Week event here.
One of the farms hosting a visit during WeedSmart Week is Warrakirri’s 12,800 cropping operation at Condingup. Farm manager Con Murphy has implemented a variety of tactics to combat their main weeds – annual ryegrass and wild radish. Since 2015 the farm has undergone an intensive soil amelioration program to improve the drainage and ameliorate the sandy soils across the farm.
Con says the benefits have been seen in better germination and establishment that sets their cereal, pulse and canola crops up to compete strongly with weeds. There is also a benefit at the end of the season where rain in August or September enters the soil profile without causing waterlogging, and providing a better finish for their crops.
Since 2016-17 about 80% of the farm has been ripped and a portion has been ripped 2 or 3 times because the sandy soils tend to slump after substantial rainfall events, recreating the hardpan.
Con will be showing the WeedSmart tour group how their ripping, drainage, liming and spading program has helped grow more crop and less weeds!
Listen to the podcast with Warrakirri’s Con Murphy talking about the impact of improved drainage on crop competition

Big 6 at WeedSmart Week 2021 – Implement harvest weed seed control
The WeedSmart Week machinery display is set for Wednesday 18 August, 2021 at Dave Campbell’s shed near Esperance WA. The 3-day WeedSmart Week program features growers, agronomists and researchers discussing ways to use the BIG 6 to beat crop weeds. You can register for the 3-day WeedSmart Week event here.
We’ve saved the harvest weed seed control discussion for the machinery session on Wednesday 18 August. Ben White from Kondinin Group will host the machinery session with spray and harvesting gear on display including impact mills from Seed Terminator, Redekop and iHSD (both hydraulic and belt-driven), Emar chaff deck, and spray technologies including Goldacres’ G6 Crop Cruiser series 2, and weed detection technologies using drones and weed identifying cameras (green on green).
Ben White, Kondinin Group (Photo: Melissa Powell, courtesy of GRDC)
Growers doing the WeedSmart Big 6
WeedSmart Week 2021 is set for Tuesday 17 to Thursday 19 August, 2021 in and around Esperance WA. The last two days feature local growers hosting visits to their farms and discussing how they use the BIG 6 to beat crop weeds. You can register for the 3-day WeedSmart Week event here.
One of the growers who will open up their farm for a visit is Adrian Perks who farms at Condingup, 70 km north-east of Esperance. Adrian runs a continuous cropping program on his 4300 ha property, growing canola, wheat, barley, faba beans and lupins. This diverse rotation allows him to mix and rotate both chemical and non-chemical weed control tactics. Over half of Adrian’s farm is sandplain, on which he has implemented a soil amelioration program to address non-wetting to increase the competitiveness of his crops. He currently uses chaff decks for harvest weed seed control and is introducing an impact mill this season. Adrian monitors the tramtracks for weed growth and if he feels the weed pressure is too high, he uses a shielded sprayer to reduce seed set. The bus tour will include four farm visits and a machinery display.
Listen to Adrian on the Regional Update podcast.
Adrian Perkins, Condingup WA
 

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WeedSmart agronomist set to tackle high rainfall zone weeds

Every locality has its own spectrum of weeds, and growers face different opportunities and challenges regarding the control tactics they can employ.
The WeedSmart Big 6 approach is a practical way to ensure that an integrated weed management program is put in place that disrupts weed seed production and the evolution of herbicide resistance.
Commencing in January 2021, Jana Dixon has joined the WeedSmart team of extension agronomists, with a focus on applying the Big 6 to manage weeds in the high rainfall cropping systems of southern Australia – from Esperance in WA to south-eastern SA, Tasmania and south-western Victoria.
Jana will add to the dedicated and experienced extension agronomists on the WeedSmart team with Peter Newman in the Western region, Chris Davey in the South, Greg and Kirrily Condon in the East and Paul McIntosh in the North.
Jana Dixon has joined the WeedSmart team of extension agronomists, with a focus on applying the Big 6 to manage weeds in the high rainfall cropping systems of southern Australia – from Esperance in WA to south-eastern SA, Tasmania and south-western Victoria.
Jana hails from the Mid North of SA, and began working at Pinion Advisory (previously Rural Directions) while she was studying agriculture at the University of Adelaide. She has been employed full-time at Pinion Advisory since January 2019 as an agribusiness consultant, based in Clare, and spends most of her time delivering agronomy and farm business advice to clients from a wide range of cropping regions in South Australia.
Pinion Advisory is a foundation WeedSmart sponsor and Jana has been involved in two WeedSmart Week events already – the first as a participant and grower group organiser at the Horsham event in 2019 and then as the local organiser for WeedSmart Week 2020 in Clare.
In welcoming her to the WeedSmart team, program manager Lisa Mayer says Jana brings energy, commitment and insight to deliver communications focussed on the southern region’s high rainfall regions.
“Growers in the southern high rainfall zones are facing some serious issues with herbicide resistance influencing their farming decisions,” says Ms Mayer. “Jana will be engaging with agronomists, growers and researchers in each of the distinct high rainfall zones to understand the complexities and look for practical ways to apply the WeedSmart Big 6 in various cropping scenarios.”
“We plan to deliver WeedSmart Week in Esperance, part of Western Australia’s high rainfall cropping zone, in August 2021 and Jana will play a key role in the planning and delivering of our annual 3-day flagship event.”
Jana says her experience with the WeedSmart program has been very positive and she has been particularly impressed with the support the program has from all sectors of the grains industry.
Newly appointed WeedSmart extension agronomist, Jana Dixon (green cap) leading discussions with farm visit host, Ben Marshman, Owen SA, and growers and agronomists attending WeedSmart Week 2020 in Clare.
“I have spoken to many growers and agronomists who have found real value in the information that the WeedSmart program delivers,” she says. “For many it is as much about considering another operator’s philosophy on dealing with weeds, and taking a fresh look at their own systems, rather than just learning about a new tactic or the traits of a new herbicide in isolation from the big picture.”
She says the high calibre of industry people who contribute their time and expertise to the program is testament to the value WeedSmart has to agribusiness, growers, agronomists and researchers alike.
In taking on the responsibility for delivering information tailored for the high rainfall zones Jana says she is pleased to have an extensive network of contacts through Pinion Advisory, with offices in a number of high rainfall areas to provide easy access to local agronomists and growers. She is also aware that there are major differences in weed spectrums and farming systems in each high rainfall zone and plans to take full advantage of the opportunity this role presents to expand her understanding of different approaches to weed management.
“The long and favourable growing season and the associated prolonged periods of weed germination, is a key factor that I see potentially impacting on a grower’s weed management strategies in these regions,” she says. “On the other hand, access to highly diverse rotations and a focus on crop competition are two strategies that can play an important role in achieving excellent weed management in these regions.”
“I am keen to engage with anyone working and farming in the high rainfall zones to build my knowledge and understanding,” she says. “And to create opportunities to develop and extend the WeedSmart Big 6 strategies, both herbicide and non-herbicide, that work in each area and in different situations.”
WeedSmart is the industry voice delivering science-backed weed control solutions with support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), major herbicide, machinery and seed companies, and university and government research partners, all of whom have a stake in sustainable farming systems.
You an follow Jana on Twitter and keep up to date with the HRZ here.

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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.
 

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