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What is the critical period for weed control?

with Graham Charles, Research Agronomist (weeds), NSW DPI

The critical period for weed control (CPWC) idea suggests that any weeds that germinate within the CPWC window should be controlled soon after germination to stop them reducing crop yield. Once the crop has passed the critical period then the crop will out-compete any new weed germinations and they will have little impact on yield.

NSW Department of Primary Industries research agronomist, Graham Charles’ work in cotton clearly demonstrated this principle for several key weed species, but he cautions that late germinations of weeds will still contribute to the weed seed bank and so must be controlled before they set seed, even though they may not affect yield of the current crop.

NSW Department of Primary Industries research agronomist, Graham Charles says early control of weeds is important to preserve yield and then growers need to turn their attention to preventing seed set in any later germinating weeds.

“To maximise crop performance and minimise the risk of herbicide resistance in farming systems growers need to make many decisions about the timing of weed control,” he says. “In Roundup Ready cotton there is an option to apply glyphosate at any stage of crop development, but once the critical period has been passed in the crop then the focus needs to switch to preventing seed set and preserving fibre quality, as these later weed emergences will not compromise yield.”

Using yield data across seven years and measuring the impact of three weed species, Graham developed a tool for cotton growers to estimate weed density and use the economic threshold to determine when to apply a weed control tactic.   

“Getting the timing right is very important when it comes to managing weeds but the fact is, there are many variables and the decisions are hard to make,” he says. “The critical period weed sampling sheet that we developed for cotton can provide a framework for other growers to use to record weed densities.”

Herbicide resistance can only be contained in a low-density weed situation. Achieving this hinges on applying herbicides when the weeds are most susceptible – small and actively growing – and preventing any escapes from setting seed. This strategy will also protect yield: less weeds, more crop.

When the weed density is low, crop competition can do most of the work provided those few weeds are controlled early, without damaging the crop. Then come back later in the season to prevent seed set of any late germinating weeds to keep the seed bank in check.

How do you measure weed density?

Short answer: Do a ‘drive-by’ survey to identify weedy and less weedy areas. Then walk a transect through the weed areas and count the weeds present.

Longer answer: Record weeds in broad categories such as ‘large broadleaf’, ‘small broadleaf’ and ‘grasses’. Every 50 m, stop and make a small quadrant with your boots – heels together and feet placed at 90 degrees. Count the weeds in the square you can imagine with your feet providing two sides. As a rule of thumb, a count of 5 weeds equates to 50 per m2, and 20 weeds equates to 200 per m2

Estimating weed density is difficult. One way to gather data is to do a field survey counting weeds within a small quadrant made using your boots. As a rule of thumb, a count of 5 weeds equates to 50 per m2, and 20 weeds equates to 200 per m2.

How do I time sprays to maximise the value of each herbicide application?

Short answer: Spray only young, actively growing weeds. Use a different tactic to control large or stressed weeds.

Longer answer: Delaying a spray application to wait for another germination (and try and get all weeds with one pass) may have a yield penalty and may also allow the older individuals to survive the treatment. When the weed density is low, crop competition can do most of the work provided those few weeds are controlled early, without damaging the crop. Then come back later in the season to prevent seed set of any late germinating weeds to keep the seed bank in check.

If weed density is moderate to high, then it is necessary to apply a number of tactics throughout the growing season to put downward pressure on weed numbers and seed production. In cotton, high densities (500 weeds per 10 m row) of grass weeds such as awnless barnyard grass and liverseed grass need to be controlled right through to early squaring of the cotton, just to prevent a 2% yield loss. If allowed to set seed this density of grass weed would obviously create an even greater weed problem for the following season.

How important is stopping seed set in relation to keeping glyphosate working?

Short answer: Essential! Follow the 2 + 2 & NO Survivors approach.

Longer answer: To keep glyphosate working in the cotton industry, growers are asked to use at least 2 non-glyphosate tactics in crop, 2 non-glyphosate tactics in the fallow and to ensure there are zero-survivors of any glyphosate treatment applied. This means scouting after weed control treatments and applying aggressive tactics such as spot spraying, chipping and cultivation to remove individual survivors and patches.

And don’t forget to follow the same principles to protect the other chemistry groups. Controlling survivors of a Group A application, for example, is just as important for prolonging the life of the Group A herbicides.

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What can I do to control large FTR grass in fallow?

Feathertop Rhodes grass (FTR) is a major weed in chemical fallows in Australia, and is notoriously hard to kill with glyphosate.
Bhagirath Chauhan, professor at the University of Queensland’s Centre for Crop Science, says some other herbicide control measures have potential to manage large FTR plants (40 to 50 leaf stage) that have escaped earlier treatment.
Professor Bhagirath Chauhan says there are some tank mixes and herbicide sequences that growers could deploy to help manage FTR and stop seed set.
“Feathertop Rhodes grass is an aggressive weed that can establish in bare fallow situations and produce a large quantitiy of seed if left uncontrolled,” he says. “Several biotypes of this species are resistant to glyphosate and can also survive a double knock of glyphosate followed by paraquat, particularly once the weed is larger than 4 to 5 leaf stage.”
To give growers more options, a study was conducted to assess the potential of other herbicides and use patterns that can control large feathertop Rhodes plants or stop seed set.   
Alternative herbicide options are available to help manage large FTR and reduce seed set in fallow.
“An integrated approach is essential to controlling feathertop Rhodes grass,” says Bhagirath. “In applying the WeedSmart Big 6 to FTR in a bare fallow situation we have identified some tank mix and herbicide sequences that growers could deploy to help manage this difficult weed and stop seed set.”
Can anything be done to improve the efficacy of glyphosate or the double knock against large FTR plants?
In brief: Adjuvants did not improve glyphosate efficacy on mature (40 to 50 leaf) FTR plants. In glyphosate resistant populations, the second knock product is doing the heavy lifting when applied to large (8 to 10 leaf) FTR plants.
The details: None of the commercially available adjuvants improved the efficacy of glyphosate (740 g a.e. per ha) as a single product application on FTR at the 40 to 50 leaf stage. All the plants survived and produced seed after being treated with glyphosate, indicating that the population used in the study was resistant to glyphosate at this rate and weed growth stage.
Glyphosate and the double knock tactic can often provide good control of resistant FTR plants if the herbicide is applied when the plants are small and actively growing.
The traditional double knock of glyphosate (Group 9 [M]) or glyphosate + 2,4-D, followed by paraquat (Group 22 [L]) or glufosinate (Group 10 [N]), applied to older FTR plants (8-10 leaf) achieved increased phytotoxicity through improved mortality, reduced biomass or fewer seed panicles.
However, the double knock was no better than using paraquat or glufosinate alone when applied to 8 to 10 leaf FTR plants. FTR is not listed on glufosinate labels in Australia but is used to control other weeds in fallow situations at the rate (750 g a.e. per ha) tested in this study. For best results, glufosinate needs to be applied in warm, humid conditions, which is not a common scenario for summer fallow situations.
Rate response (0, 187.5, 375 and 750 g a.e. per ha) to glufosinate applied to large FTR plants.
Are clethodim or haloxyfop suitable alternative herbicides to treat large, glyphosate resistant FTR plants?
In brief: Possibly. Excellent results were achieved in pot trials conducted in an open environment, but will be more difficult to achieve in the field.
The details: Clethodim and haloxyfop were tested on FTR plants at the 24 to 28 leaf stage. Clethodim is registered for use against FTR in a number of summer crops, but without any crop competition many FTR plants survived the registered rate (90 g a.e. per ha), although weed biomass and seed production was severely curtailed.
Haloxyfop efficacy against FTR at this growth stage was 100 per cent at the registered rate of 80 g a.e. per ha.
A combination of these two treatments also resulted in 100 per cent control. The effective use of these two herbicides (both Group 1 [A]) relies on excellent coverage and application when the plants are actively growing. This is difficult to achieve in field conditions, which is why the label recommendations are typically for younger weeds.
A combination of clethodim and haloxyfop can provide good control of large feathertop Rhodes plant and curtail seed production.
These herbicides are known to readily select for resistant biotypes so when applied in a chemical fallow situation (with no competition), it is necessary to target small weeds with robust application rates and to apply a second knock with a contact herbicide, such as paraquat. 
Did you find any new and exciting prospects for controlling mature FTR plants?
In brief: Yes, it seems that there is a truly synergistic effect when isoxaflutole (Group 27 [H]; e.g. Balance) is mixed with paraquat.
The details: Neither of these herbicides provided useful control of FTR at the 40 to 50 leaf stage when applied individually. When mixed together, these herbicides achieved a higher level of weed mortality and prevented panicle production. For example, a tank mixture of isoxaflutole 75 g a.i. per ha, with paraquat 600 g a.i. per ha, resulted in 92 per cent FTR mortality and no panicle production.
Even at a paraquat rate of 300 g a.i. per ha mixed with isoxaflutole 75 g a.i. per ha, only 17 per cent of the large FTR plants survived when the mixture was applied to both the plant and the nearby soil – allowing uptake through both the leaves and the roots.
The benefit of this mixture may be reduced if the weed patch is dense, potentially reducing the amount of the isoxaflutole that reaches the soil. Even the prevention of seed set in large FTR plants is of significant value in managing the seed bank of this invasive weed, as FTR seed remains viable for less than 12 months.
Such a use pattern is not currently specified on product labels, although both products are registered for weed control in fallow situations.  
Web resources
Read the research paper.

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Can pulse cover crops tackle multi-resistant ryegrass in irrigated systems?

The best weed control comes from tactics that also bring other benefits to a farming system.
Greg Sefton, principal agronomist with Sefton Agronomics in the Riverina, says multi-resistant annual ryegrass is becoming a major problem in irrigated systems.
Greg Sefton, principal agronomist with Sefton Agronomics in the Riverina, says legume cover cropping is providing effective control of multi-resistant annual ryegrass in irrigated systems.
“Herbicide resistance can move easily through irrigation areas, particularly when the control methods used on the supply channels are limited to just a few herbicides,” he says. “The ryegrass here is generally accepted to have resistance to glyphosate (Group 9 [M]), Group 1 [A] such as clethodim, Group 2 [B] and Group 3 [D], such as trifluralin. Growers are now relying heavily on Group 15 [K] products such as Sakura, and doing their best to rotate out of the problem.”
To regain control, Greg is working with growers to incorporate a multi-purpose fallow crop such as field pea into the system as a winter fallow clean with the added benefit of contributing biological nitrogen into the soil ahead of planting rice or wheat. 
Earlier maturing varieties of field pea provide better weed control options than Kaspa field pea, chickpea and lupin, all of which generally mature later, sometimes after the target weeds have set seed.
“A competitive pulse crop terminated at maximum biomass is an excellent way to reduce weed seed set,” says Greg. “It is a cultural control that also enables the use of some herbicides that are rarely used in our system. Combining the herbicide and cultural methods in the WeedSmart Big 6 is an effective way to keep our cropping options open and to maximise the value of applied water.”

What is the best fit for the legume crop as a winter clean?
In brief: In the Riverina, the optimal place in the rotation is ahead of rice.
The details: Fields selected for rice production are usually bare fallowed for the preceding winter. The aim of the fallow is to control weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Some growers are having success with field pea sown in May as a winter cover crop then terminated for silage or as a brown manure in early September. This fits well with preventing seed set in annual ryegrass, including late germinating plants.
Field pea is a competitive legume and can suppress weed germination and growth when planted in the most competitive configuration possible with minimal soil disturbance and no gaps.
A knockdown treatment of glyphosate (Group 9 [M]), clopyralid (Group 4 [I]) and carfentrazone (Group G [14]) is applied at planting then a mix of pendimethalin (Group 3 [D]), clomazone (Group 13 [Q]) and paraquat (Group 22 [L]) is applied after an irrigation flush to initiate rice germination and prior to rice germination to knockdown both newly emerged barnyard grass (BYG) and persisting ryegrass. This provides a double knock on ryegrass whilst applying a pre-emergent herbicide for barnyard grass in the rice phase.
When implemented once every 4 or 5 years, with a diverse rotation of winter and summer crops in-between, growers can keep a lid on herbicide resistant annual ryegrass populations. 
Field pea is a competitive legume crop that can reduce annual ryegrass germination in the paddock and halt encroachment from the crop borders.
How do you manage weeds on the non-crop areas?
In brief: The same herbicide mix is applied to the whole paddock, including the weeds growing in the check banks.
The details: Weed seed, often carrying herbicide resistance genes, travels easily through irrigation systems and can colonise non-crop areas. Seed from these plants readily infests the cropping areas if not controlled effectively. The control measures used on non-crop zones are often limited to herbicide tactics, so it is important to make sure the herbicide is applied to maximum effect to prevent seed set.
Farm hygiene and physical removal of isolated weeds will also have a positive impact on weed seed production. 
What farming system benefits come with growing a legume cover crop?
In brief: A legume crop grown for biomass rather than grain can improved soil tilth and reduce crusting on some sodic soils. This practice also allows better soil nutrition management and keeps the grower’s options open if the water allocation situation changes.
The details: The field pea crop will fix atmospheric nitrogen and this allows the grower to use 100 to 150 kg/ha less urea to grow the following rice crop without any yield penalty. If there is insufficient irrigation water available for a rice crop, then the fixed nitrogen is still available for a winter crop of canola or wheat.
The phosphorus fertiliser required for rice can be applied when the field pea crop is planted, giving the phosphorus time to become more available in the soil and ready for uptake when the rice is planted.
Field pea is quite drought tolerant, so if irrigation water is not available for rice, the field pea can be grown through to harvest the grain and will usually yield 0.7 t/ha, which can be more profitable than, say, a 1 t/ha drought-affected wheat crop.
Building an integrated farming system based on methods that have multiple benefits is fundamental to staying ahead of weed pressure.
Practical tips for growing field peas as a brown manure crop
Pulses to attack weeds on many fronts

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Can multi-species planting provide effective weed control?

Crop competition is one of the most effective weed control tools available to growers, but some crops simply don’t have a competitive edge.
Dr Andrew Fletcher, a farming systems scientist with CSIRO, says companion planting and intercropping is an option that growers can consider to bolster the competitiveness of an otherwise uncompetitive but valuable crop in the rotation. International research suggests that it can!
Andrew Fletcher, CSIRO farming systems researcher sees potential for multi-species plantings to compete with weeds. Photo: GRDC
“When two or more species are grown together they can occupy ecological niches that might otherwise be taken up by weeds,” he says. “Multi-species plantings have several potential benefits including increased crop yield and improved soil health, but the right combination can also reduce weed biomass by over 50 per cent.”
Multi-species plantings can be quite challenging to integrate into a grain cropping rotation but are more easily used in mixed grain and livestock operations and in intensive pastures for dairy cattle. International research suggests there is a significant untapped opportunity to increase the use of these systems in Australian grain production systems. However, relevant Australian data is scarce and more research is required to understand this untapped potential in Australian systems.    
A mixed-species cover crop can provide multiple soil health benefits, grazing and fodder for livestock and weed control through crop competition and stopping weed seed set.
“Crop competition is a non-herbicide pillar in the WeedSmart Big 6, with the potential to do some serious heavy lifting in terms of weed control,” says Andrew. “Intercropping and companion planting offers a means to bolster the competitiveness of some crops and to keep them in the rotation without risking a weed blow-out.”
What is intercropping, companion planting and mixed-species planting?
In brief: These systems all involve planting two or more crop species together. The combinations are almost limitless.
The details: Intercropping involves planting two or more species together and harvesting the grain of multiple crops. This generally relies on the grain species having different size seed and compatible harvest times.
Companion planting involves two or more species planted together with the intention to harvest grain from one species only after grazing or terminating the other species before seed set.
Sowing a low-growing species like clover between the rows of cereal can compete with weeds in the inter-row area, fix nitrogen and provide the basis of a pasture after the cereal grain is harvested. This is one example of companion planting.
Mixed-species planting is used to describe plantings of several species grown together primarily for the soil health benefits, and that may have potential for grazing and or forage conservation.
How do these systems suppress weed growth?
In brief: These multi-species systems are designed to take up the ecological space that might otherwise present and opportunity for weeds to fill.
The details: Intercropping and companion planting provide additional weed control in situations where one of the species is a relatively poor competitor as a sole crop. By maximising competition, weed growth is suppressed by up to 58 per cent compared to the least competitive species grown on its own. If a competitive crop such as barley is sown in the most competitive configuration possible, there is little additional benefit from adding a second species.
The downside of using this multi-species strategy for weed control is that in-crop herbicide options the choice of herbicides is limited. This is mainly due to the common combinations being a grass crop with a legume or brassica, meaning grass and broadleaf herbicide options can’t be used, except for when one species is terminated. This needs to be factored into decisions around intercropping and companion cropping.  
What are the best-bet combinations for enhanced weed control?
In brief: It depends on the farming system and the other reasons for considering a multi-species planting.
The details: If the aim is to produce grain, the species selected should have easily separated seed. A well-known example is peaola (field pea plus canola). A recent review of historical trials showed that the median yield increase was 31 per cent compared to sole crops of peas and canola, but the weed control effects of peaola in Australia are unquantified.
An effective companion planting combination is wheat undersown with tillage radish and a legume. The broadleaf companions are sprayed out at stem elongation, leaving the cereal to mature through to harvest.
If there is livestock in the farming system, dual purpose combinations such as grazing canola plus vetch and oats can provide excellent weed suppression. This mix could be grazed and then terminated as hay or silage at stem elongation.
Multi-species plantings add a layer of complexity to the farming system, but many growers have taken on the challenge and are reaping the rewards in crop yield, soil health and weed suppression.

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