One of the first and foremost factors for successful zero tilling has nothing to do with drill or opener selection. It has to do with management. Most direct seeding failures I have ever seen or experienced have to do with weed control — specifically, the pre-seed burnoff herbicide application. Producers often skip this operation, thinking either there are no weeds to spray that early, they don’t have the time, or maybe they opt for a post-seeding burnoff before the crop emerges. Based on my experience, I would never skip burnoff herbicide in a zero-till system.
As I tell producers, make the burnoff a simple matter of routine. Skipping the burnoff is like going outside without getting dressed first. You just don’t do those kinds of things!
Lets go back to 2007 to start our story. At this time I was still undergoing treatments for cancer. I was lucky in that I had hooked up with an exceptional assistant, Melissa Fuchs. For those of you close to the Redvers Co-op in Saskatchewan, I hope you have her on your team. Having her spend a few hours with you on your farm would be one of the smarter things could ever do for yourself!
So while I was at the Cross Clinic battling for my life, Melissa and our summer tech, Tracey James, were busy looking after the program that Central Peace Conservation Society (CPCS) was planning for 2007. Two things went wrong for these poor people. One, it was a wet spring. At the NewPro site, they had a few wet areas where they could not put the burnoff down when seeding time approached. Two, they had sprayer malfunctions. By this point, I had been using a 33-foot truck-mount sprayer with electric solenoid boom controls for about 10 years. Let’s just say this was an owner/operator kind of sprayer with a lot of quirks. I was used to all the little problems and operational issues with it and I generally could keep it running.
At the Brett Young site, Melissa and Tracey had some sprayer issues they were unaware of. This is not their fault. After having the sprayer run flawlessly for several days, you start to trust it, and that is when it turns on you. There is a pressure gauge in the cab, but watching the gauge, looking at the GPS lightbar, watching out for wet spots, and getting read to turn at the end of a pass, all while wearing a chemical suit in a truck cab with the windows rolled up and the inside temperature reaching 50 degrees, can make it hard to concentrate for the best of us. At any rate, there were a number of passes made when it was not spraying, as we were to discover later on.
PHOTOS TELL THE STORY
All burnoff and in-crop Roundup applications were identical for the NewPro and BrettYoung sites: 0.33 litres per acre of Roundup WeatherMax and five gallons per acre of water.
At the NewPro site, burnoff did not go down in some of the wetter areas. But they were dry enough to get seeded to wheat like the rest of the plot and they also got the full in-crop herbicide program. Well, at harvest time what a mess! In the areas that did not get the burnoff, foxtail barley moved in with a vengeance.
For me skipping the burnoff would be like going outside without getting dressed first. You just don’t do those kinds of things!
The BrettYoung site is where the sprayer decided to act up. In the photos, you can clearly see where we missed the preseed burnoff. The cost of this miss extended into the following two years. We seeded these same areas in 2008 and 2009, and both years the burnoff was done over the entire area. RR canola was seeded and the canola was sprayed twice in crop as well, yet the problem area still persisted!
At both sites where there was a burnoff miss, remember that the same seeding, fertility and in-crop weed management programs
were used. The differences in weed pressure are only attributed to the simple fact that part of the area did not get sprayed with Roundup prior to seeding. Visually it is clear beyond dispute or discussion which areas got a preseed burnoff and which did not.
I think that the lesson is a simple one: The best thing that you can ever do for your soil besides adopt zero till, is to apply burnoff herbicide each and every year. For the cost of Roundup these days, a burnoff herbicide application is an operation that is just not worth skipping. I have never encountered a situation in which it did not pay significant dividends and our experiences show that the consequences can be worse than we ever imagined!
Garry Ropchan is the research coordinator with the Central Peace Conservation Society in Grimshaw, Alta. Email him at [email protected]