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Using pasture phases to beat herbicide resistant weeds

with Tim Condon, Senior Consultant, Delta Agribusiness

Cropping a thousand hectares with a low weed seed bank is worth at least $20 thousand per year. Including a pasture or fodder phase can help achieve this while revving up the whole farming system.

Delta Agribusiness senior consultant, Tim Condon says the reason that including a pasture phase is one of the WeedSmart ‘Big 6’ tactics to manage herbicide resistance is the opportunity it provides to drive down weed seed numbers before returning to a cropping phase.

Tim Condon, Delta Agribusiness says adding a 2–3 year pasture phase provides growers with a number of additional weed control tactics to address herbicide resistance.

“The key is to always go into the crop phase with low weed numbers and also go into the pasture phase with low numbers,” he says. “The idea that pastures are an effective ‘reset’ after a weed blow out doesn’t always work.”

What does work is taking a planned approach right across the pasture phase and using a number of tactics known to be highly effective at preventing seed set. Several of the tactics available for use in a pasture phase can provide over 90 per cent control of the target weeds. The plan needs to outline how the pasture phase will fit into the crop rotation and what tactics will be used seasonally and rotationally to maximise the effect on weed numbers.

“The aim of the game is to establish dense, persistent and nodulating pastures,” says Tim. “Pastures offer the opportunity to have two to three consecutive years of no seed set. Go into the pasture phase with a clear plan for weed control and avoid the temptation in a tough winter to ‘drop the weed control program – because you need the feed’.”

Tim recommends incorporating fodder crops or short-term pastures for grazing as well as fodder conservation. The livestock options are flexible and can include running a livestock enterprise, buying in or agisting livestock for short-term grazing.

“Having livestock in the system can also influence your choice of other weed control tactics such as harvest weed seed control – where you can use the chaff dumps or chaff lines as an additional feed source,” he says. “Using heavy strategic grazing after applying glyphosate and prior to a double knock dose of gramoxone is also a very effective tool”

The weed control tactics that offer the greatest seed set prevention in pastures are hard winter clean, hay and silage. Using as many tactics as possible each year helps to target different weeds with both herbicide and non-herbicide control measures.

Two or three years of pasture also pays dividends with improvements in soil tilth, fertility and water infiltration as a result of growing persistent, nodulating, dense pastures.

What is the most effective winter clean tactic?

Short answer: A hard winter clean.

Longer answer: A hard winter clean is hard on the desirable perennials and annual legumes but very effective on weeds. If you choose to use a soft winter clean to preserve the legumes, be sure to follow up with another tactic.

For a hard winter clean to be most effective the pasture must be grazed very short prior to spraying. If there are patches of long vegetation or different weed species, consider spraying these areas separately, or twice, with the most effective chemicals. You can target both annual grasses and broadleaf weeds, but choose the herbicide mixing partners carefully.

A hard winter clean is the most effective way to end a pasture phase and to maximise the chances of re-entering the cropping phase with very low weed numbers.

What other tactics can be used?

Short answer: Spray topping.

Longer answer: Spray topping with either glyphosate or gramoxone early in the pasture phase can be used to start the process of driving down the weed seed bank. Timing is critical. For example, paraquat must be sprayed at flowering while glyphosate has a wider window of growth stages and can be more effective across a range of species at a single given application timing. Of course, a complete and timely spray fallow in the last year of the pasture phase is critical part of the process. Often a double knock with glyphosate followed by gramoxone can be employed to achieve 100% control.

What are the keys to growing dense, persistent and nodulating pastures?

Short answer: Attention to every detail!

Longer answer: A pasture phase is a good time to analyse the soil and take action to correct any acidity or other nutrient constraints. Zero or minimum tillage systems can lead to pH and nutrient stratification with sub-surface layers remaining acidic. Sampling and testing the 5–10 cm layer will identify if this is a problem. This is an ideal time to consider strategic tillage if this is an issue.

Decide on whether to establish the pasture with a cover crop or by direct seeding – both have pros and cons. Direct seeding is the best choice if the pasture mix includes a short term legume species or is grass based in drier environments.

If you choose to establish the pasture under a cover crop, the pasture must win this competition. Choose a crop that can be sown early and sow the crop in a north south direction at a low seeding rate. Remember that it is all about giving the pasture the competitive edge. Choose pasture species that are suited to your area and are weed suppressive.

For a pasture phase to be an effective weed control measure the pasture must be persistent, nodulating and dense.

What fodder conservation measures provide the best weed control?

Short answer: Both hay and silage are great for preventing seed set.

Longer answer: Using a combination of tactics works well. Silage is cut earlier in the season – so crash grazing after cutting followed by a spray fallow is highly effective. As is a pre-cutting application of glyphosate, particularly with hay making.

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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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Testing for herbicide resistance

“Testing takes the guesswork out of the equation and gives farmers baseline information that they can use to monitor changes in the weeds on their farms,” he said. “If low level resistance is identified early there are many more management options available compared to situations where full blown resistance has taken hold.” Dr Boutsalis said the over use and over reliance on particular herbicides will unavoidably lead to herbicide resistance developing. “We often hear of farmers applying herbicide even though they are not sure if it will work,” he said. The $300 to $400 cost of testing is insignificant compared to the cost of wasted herbicide, lost production and the costs of driving down a large seed bank of resistant weeds. What herbicide resistance tests are available to farmers in Australia? Short answer: The ‘quick’ test using the whole plant and the ‘seed’ test. Longer answer: The ‘quick’ test uses plant samples collected on farm and sent to the laboratory. The plants are revived and planted into pots then tested against the required herbicides. The ‘seed’ test requires the collection of ripe seed, which is planted out at the laboratory. After dormancy has been broken and the seedlings have started to grow they are tested for their response to herbicides. Both tests are equally accurate. The ‘quick’ test can not test for resistance to some pre-emergent herbicides, such as trifluralin. Which is the most common test that farmers use? Short answer: The seed test. Longer answer: Collecting 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. Where is the best place to collect samples? Short answer: From suspicious or high risk areas. Longer answer: Herbicide resistance can develop in high risk areas like fencelines or at random through a paddock. Visual observations and changes on the yield monitor in the header can indicate good places to collect seed. If collecting plant samples, look for weeds at the early tillering stage that appear to have ‘escaped’ previous herbicide treatment. Collect 50 to 100 small plants or fewer larger plants. Shake off the soil from the roots, place in a plastic bag and send to the laboratory. What’s involved in sending samples? Short answer: Pick, pack, register and ship. Longer answer: Each sample needs to arrive at the laboratory with suitable identification and instructions. Register the samples online to get a unique sample number and to provide the information required, such as which herbicides you want to test against. Plant Science Consulting and Charles Sturt University both offer commercial herbicide resistance seed testing. Find the details under Point 4 of the 10 Point Plan on the WeedSmart website.   How to ask a WeedSmart question Ask your questions about the spread of herbicide resistance, or any herbicide resistance management strategy, using this blog or using Twitter @WeedSmartAU.

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