Read time: 4 minutes

Understanding weed competitive traits in barley

WeedSmart Scientific Partner

Barley is known as a fairly competitive crop, but not all genotypes are equal when it comes to weed suppression and weed tolerance.

To un-pick the complex mechanisms behind competitive ability in barley, QAAFI weed researchers Gulshan Mahajan and Bhagirath Chauhan, and cereal plant breeder Lee Hickey, teamed up to quantify the effect of weed interference on commercial and elite-line barley genotypes.

Their two-year field trial compared the competitive ability of eight barley genotypes against a mimic weed (oats) by measuring weed biomass, weed seed production and barley yield.

  • Weeds can cause huge yield losses in barley – between 43 and 78 per cent difference between weedy and weed-free growing conditions for the eight genotypes tested.
  • There is considerable variation in the weed competitive ability of current and elite breeding lines of barley in Australia.
  • The most weed suppressive variety, Westminster, reduced weed seed production by 73%, compared with that of LaTrobe. Similarly, weed biomass of Westminster reduced by 55%, compared with that of LaTrobe.
  • There is scope for the development of high-yielding weed-competitive barley genotypes through additional screening of elite lines in weedy conditions.
  • Higher panicle production in barley appears to be a strong indicator of a genotype’s competitive ability.

When it comes to using a crop to compete with weeds there are two discreet mechanisms –

  1. weed suppression, where the growth and seed production of weed plants is reduced and
  2. weed tolerance, where crop yield is maintained, even in weedy conditions.

The most competitive genotypes will use both of these mechanisms and knowing which mechanisms are at play is valuable information when planning an integrated weed control program. Competitive genotypes are a powerful non-herbicide weed control tactic and growers will gain significant benefits if they can plant a strong weed-suppressive crop into a weedy situation, particularly if they do not have to sacrifice yield.

While yield and malt quality have driven the barley breeding program to date in Australia, this research suggests that there is great advantage in understanding the response of the variety to weed pressure.

Observations on the competitive ability of the four commercial varieties tested:

  • Commander barley is both weed suppressive and weed tolerant. If sown with an effective pre-emergent herbicide, Commander is probably the best choice to maintain low weed numbers.
  • Westminster is the most weed suppressive and might be a better choice if weed numbers are starting to increase, or for use in low input and organic production systems. Westminster is not weed tolerant, so a significant yield penalty should be expected in weedy situations.
  • Although Compass is tall and has a droopy architecture (like Commander and Westminster) it is not weed suppressive or weed tolerant, and should only be chosen for weed-free situations.
  • LaTrobe is the least weed seed suppressive but is weed tolerant, maintaining a reasonable yield in the presence of weeds.

The competitive ability of a particular genotype may vary in different locations, seasons and management systems, and in the presence of different weed species.

Experimental design features

The experiments were conducted in 2017 and 2018 at the University of Queensland research station at Gatton. The crops were sown at a depth of 5 cm in rows 35 cm apart on 17 May 2017 and 23 May 2018. The crops were irrigated to maintain field capacity and were harvested on 4 November 2017 and 28 October 2018.

There were eight barley genotypes, weedy and weed-free treatments and three replicates.

Four of the barley genotypes are commercial varieties and four are elite breeding lines being assessed prior to commercial release. Like most other plant breeding programs, Australian barley varieties are usually screened in a weed-free environment with a focus on yield and malting qualities.

In this experiment, each genotype was sown at the recommended seeding rate (125 kg/ha) in a weedy and weed-free environment. Oats was used as a mimic for wild oats, a serious weed in barley. Wild oats could not be used because it has non-uniform germination and sheds its seed before barley harvest.

The plot size was 8 by 1.4 m. The weedy plots were sown with a commercial oat variety at a target density of 40 plants/m2.

There was no significant seasonal effects so data from the two seasons could be analysed together.

Weed infestation and genotype influenced the number of panicles produced per metre row length of the barley crop and crop yield. Only genotype influenced crop plant height.

While genotype had a significant impact on weed biomass, weed seed yield, weed-tolerance ability and weed-suppressive ability, phenotypic traits are not always a reliable indicator of a genotype’s weed suppressive ability or weed tolerance ability.



In this experiment, panicle number was a good indicator of both weed suppressive ability and weed tolerance ability, but plant height and architecture were not reliable indicators.

Left: Weed seed yield in weedy treatment for each barley genotype.
Right: Effect of barley genotype and weed treatment on barley grain yield.

Other factors, such as lodging and harvest index, will also need to be considered in a variety selection process but were not measured in this experiment.

Some genotypes possess both mechanisms for competing successfully with weeds while others possess one but not the other, and some have poor suppression and tolerance.

Table: Plant attributes and mean values for the weed-tolerance ability and weed-suppressive ability of the eight tested barley genotypes.

This research suggests that screening barley varieties in a weedy situation may provide valuable information to growers seeking to choose varieties that will provide the greatest weed suppression and or weed tolerance in weedy paddocks. It is not possible to screen for competitive ability in a weed-free environment and there is clearly scope for the development of high-yielding weed-competitive barley varieties in Australia.

In the face of increasing herbicide resistance in key weed species, the value of non-herbicide weed control tactics increases considerably.

The real value of crop competition (narrow rows, high seeding rate, weed-competitive genotypes) comes to the fore a few weeks after planting and through the main growing season to suppress late emerging weeds. Herbicides will remain the main tool for weed control in preparation for planting and to provide a weed-free environment for the crop to establish and rapidly achieve canopy closure.

This research was conducted and funded by the University of Queensland, a WeedSmart scientific partner.

Related resources:

Related Articles

View all
Article
News

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
 

Article
News

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.

Article
News

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.
 

Subscribe to the WeedSmart Newsletter