I have had a lot of feedback from readers who are tuned in on the herbicide resistance issue, but they still just do not really know “what to do.” I recently had one tell me, “I need to know where to start — I just rented a farm that did not have a combine put in the crop last fall due to resistant pigweeds!” Your first reaction may be the guy is crazy. However, he is a good farmer and the farm he rented has good land.
Ken Smith and I recently had a philosophical discussion about “where is this thing going?” There is no question that we are going to lose some of the weed control efficiency growers have gotten used to with Roundup Ready. LibertyLink is great technology and we have some other new trait technologies in the pipeline that hopefully help us right the ship. However, weed control is not going to be as simple as spraying everything with glyphosate anymore.
As efficiency is lost, some growers will adapt, but I am afraid some will not. As farms are lost, the farmer who takes over suddenly becomes larger. You can chase your tail thinking about the scenario that as we lose efficiency perhaps farmers will have to farm less land, but as farms are lost and others take over, those farmers become larger.
Are those two things compatible? Time will tell, but the farmers who adapt and get mad at the weeds will likely do fine.
To get more specific about what steps need to be taken to either prevent a full-blown weed resistance issue, or in most cases how to survive one, sometimes another farmer can best put things in perspective. I was on the program at a field day in the Midwest this summer along with several other Ph.D. types. We each waxed eloquently and pontificated profusely for 45 minutes to an hour about how to manage herbicide resistance.
The following day there was a media panel with the same speakers, but it also had a couple of farmers on it. When asked how he was managing the problem on his farm, one of the growers stated, “I rotate corn and soybeans,” and went on to explain his system. When he plants corn he tries to manage the weeds using only conventional herbicides. He will spray glyphosate or Ignite in the corn if he has to, but tries to take all the selection pressure possible off these herbicides in corn to save them for his soybeans.
If he followed corn the last cycle with Roundup Ready soybeans, he follows with LibertyLink soybeans the next cycle and vice versa. He uses residual herbicides in both his Roundup Ready and his LibertyLink soybeans. In his LibertyLink soybeans he tries to use residual herbicides with different modes of action than he had used in his Roundup Ready soybeans and vice versa. He was even mixing some conventional soybeans into his system in some of the cleaner fields.
The farmer went on to state that while he was primarily a no-till or conservation tillage farmer, he does not hesitate to use preplant tillage and/or cultivation in fields where he believes he needs to change things up a bit. He also hand-weeds escapes where necessary.
It probably took him all of about three minutes to say all of that. I am sitting there thinking, “I love farmers. He just said in three minutes what an entire group of us Ph.D. types were taking an hour each trying to say!” He just described crop diversity herbicide diversity herbicide trait diversity, tillage diversity, and soil weed seed bank management.
Obviously the above specific example will not apply to every farmer. However, the basic principles of diversity do apply to every farmer. The farmers that find the way to implement diversity in all aspects of the farming system will be the ones who win. I will discuss a lot of specifics in upcoming articles.