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Four steps to good weed control

When grain prices were lower, Kevin Bender cut corners, sprayed only heavier weed patches and cut back on rates. Today he sprays at full rate, and often makes two passes

Controlling weeds, doing it right, and keeping up with what’s happening plays a big part in the success of farmers today.

Kevin Bender farms west of Lacombe, Alta. Along with his brother and father, Bender farms about 5,000 acres. His portion of this is 1,500 acres, but all three operate as separate proprietorships while working together as a team.

“I think with the movement to lower disturbance seeding, we have fewer weed seeds germinating than we did under more intense tillage. At least it appears that way to me,” Bender says. “Lower disturbance means direct seeding rather than working the land once or twice before seeding. We disturb the soil just enough to get the seed in the ground without agitating the soil.” 

Bender’s area is a bit different from most of the Prairies due to high rainfall and generally cooler temperatures, presenting some unique challenges in herbicide application and weed control.

“We’re west of Lacombe, west of Highway 2. We can see the Rocky Mountains from here and don’t get the heat the rest of the Prairies do,” he says. “Some herbicides need more heat to work effectively. The warmer it is the better they work. We have some issues with that.”

Bender has found that a few factors contribute to a good weed control program

Step 1: Use full rates

Bender is adamant about not cutting back on rates.

“Generally, we don’t cut our rates but spray the full recommended rate. Sometimes we even go a little bit above because we’re more concerned with killing weeds then spending an extra dollar or two on herbicides,” says Bender. “We make sure we spray full control and try to pick nice days to do it. If it’s a product that does better on warm sunny days, we’ll try to do that.” 

There are few ideal days, but they still try to apply the herbicide at the optimal state.

Bender says they tried the false economy route some years back — saving money by cutting back herbicide rates — but not anymore. Especially with higher grain prices.  

“In the past we did that from time to time. We’d cut our rate if we saw we had lower weed population or mainly for economics,” he says. “It’s easier with higher grain prices and easier to justify the extra costs. Especially on the Liberty varieties. We always spray the top rate on that and go with two passes to get a good handle on it, especially to control wild oats and cleavers.” 

Step 2: Use rotations

With climate a limiting factor on some shorter season crops, the Bender farm grows primarily canola and CPS wheat, a little hard red spring and some winter and soft wheat. They’ve tried peas, and occasionally grow oats and barley.

Rotation is another key factor in his farm’s weed control program.

“I know in the last few years canola has really gone against that because it has been our most profitable crop, so we’ve tightened up our rotations to grow as much canola as we can,” says Bender.

In keeping healthy rotations, he breaks the disease cycles a little bit, and rotates the herbicides too.

“Even in the cereals we try to rotate the different modes of action to stretch out the resistance problems,” says Bender. “We try not to be repetitive in our herbicide use as much as possible.”

There are some farmers who push the envelope, hoping they won’t get caught, but eventually it catches, he says.

The Benders grow mostly Invigor canola hybrid varieties, but very little Roundup Ready varieties — except last year for the first time, mainly for herbicide resistance.

“It looked like we had some Group 1 resistant wild oats so we went with a RR variety to get a little bit of a jump on those wild oats,” says Bender. “In general we use the Invigor hybrids because they do exceptionally well in our area.”

For the most part, he gets good control with Liberty herbicide, again using the highest rate, with two passes.

Step 3: Keep up to date

Bender realizes how important it is to stay abreast of the latest seed and product information. He’s active in farm politics, currently serving as president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association and is a past director and chairman of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission. This involvement gets him into contact with lots of resource people and he doesn’t hesitate to use them.

“We do quite a bit of research on chemicals, and my involvement gives me opportunity to keep in touch with a lot of people more knowledgeable than myself,” he says. “I enjoy doing my own field scouting, soil testing and sample analysis.” 

Step 4: Try a silage crop

There is another method Bender uses for controlling certain weeds, especially if there’s a huge wild oat problem. He seeds that field to barley, triticale or some crop he can silage.

“We don’t use it a lot but it takes out a big chunk of wild oats, when we do,” he says. “Not a very profitable way to go, and we usually take a bit of a haircut on it, but it’s planning for the future.” †

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