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Wheat &Chaff – for Apr. 4, 2011

THE VALUE OF TECHNOLOGY

The world can really knock you down if you let it. As I write this, a near blizzard is raging out my door (and it’s late March, for crying out loud) adding insult to injury on our already snow-laden fields; the fallout and devastation from Japan’s earthquake is all over the news; and, as I read through this latest issue ofGrainews,pesky weeds are proving even peskier by becoming resistant to commonly used herbicides.

Before we delve into resistance risk and management, let’s first look at the incredible value of the herbicide products western Canadian farmers have at their disposal. This issue’s cover story by Garry Ropchan is a perfect example of the technology available at a relatively low cost. Ropchan has long been a proponent of a spring burn-off with glyphosate, regardless of the following crop, but he noticed a disturbing trend after the introduction of herbicidetolerant canola. Yes, Roundup Ready canola offered a new level of affordable in-crop weed control, however many farmers began depending too heavily on the in-crop application and skipped the pre-seed burn-off when time was tight.

Ropchan headed up a research trial to quantify just how much yield farmers were leaving on the table by eliminating the spring glyphosate application. After all, the in-crop application left fields so clean at harvest, how could weeds be robbing yield?

The research tells another tale. That being that weeds growing ahead of the crop rob yield even if controlled in-season, in this case to the tune of three bushels an acre. At current canola prices, that’s not too shabby for a relatively inexpensive practice.

Which makes the following discussion all the more worrisome. Glyphosate is affordable and effective — an indispensable weed-management tool on most farms. Biology and farming practices seemingly conspire against us, as weed populations evolve and adapt to eventually become resistant to herbicides, glyphosate included.

IMPENDING GLYPHOSATE RESISTANCE

The advent of herbicidetolerant canola and the ease and affordability of glyphosate applications before, during and after harvest have introduced two new issues — more expensive control of canola volunteers and an acceleration of weeds eventually becoming resistant to glyphosate. The two issues aren’t entirely exclusive. However one factor in the rate at which weeds develop resistance is the repeated use of the same active ingredient in the same field.

To say that glyphosate resistance is inevitable is already old news — resistance has been confirmed in Ontario giant ragweed populations. Resistant kochia has been confirmed in Kansas. It stands to reason that biotypes and populations in Western Canada may already be resistant, or at the very least, becoming tolerant.

Bill Strautman and I attended the annual Weeds Society conference late last fall and heard the cautionary tale from all sides — manage for resistance now, or pay the consequences later. Strautman has done up a story on the four weed species experts predict will develop resistance to glyphosate first. Are they a problem on your farm? Chances are yes. See more on page 15.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. What experts are trying to convey is that while our modern farming systems play a role in selection pressure on weed populations, we also have the capability and the tools to delay resistance. The key here is whether or not you, as farmers, landowners and stewards of the land, are going to take up this cause, give it the respect it deserves and do something about it.

What can you do? Several things. As Andrea Hilderman notes in her story on managing wild oat populations (because impending glyphosate resistance shouldn’t for a moment overshadow managing the resistance already out in the field), an integrated, long-term plan of attack is necessary.

It’s not enough just to rotate modes of action in-season, although that’s part of the plan, but crop rotations, including adding perennial crops to the mix, pre-and post-crop weed control and confirming and dealing with resistant populations are just a few things that need attention, especially in areas of suspected resistant populations (and that’s all of Manitoba, when we’re talking wild oats). Read more on page 8.

RATE YOUR RISK

Is your farm at risk for glyphosate resistance? In reality, every conventional farm is, but some more so than others. There’s a neat web tool available to help you determine the resistance risk on your farm — Monsanto’s Weed Resistance Risk Assessment Tool. Farmers choose their location, add in as much or as little information about themselves and the field they’re assessing as they’d like and then answer 10 questions to rate their risk. Questions cover crop rotation and tillage practices, duration and frequency of glyphosate use, the use of a tank-mix, the level of control and more. Once you receive your risk rating, the site suggests three management tools you could use to further decrease your risk level. Visit www.weedtool.com to assess your risk.

COME HELL OR HIGH WATER

I often wonder what form of madness settlers had to stick with the Prairies. Yes, in the summers this place is nearly a utopia, and for our long-ago families rich soil offered bountiful crops to feed families and make a little money (and still does today). But the winters here suck; there’s just no way around it. It’s bitterly cold for too long and in snowy, cold years like these it feels like spring will never arrive. Even now with all our modern equipment, adapted crop varieties and high-analysis fertilizer, there is no management tool for overcoming a late spring.

Or is there? Newly awarded honourary Alberta Institute of Agrologists member and Grainewsfield editor Lee Hart and I had a chat a few weeks back about what farmers can and will do to get a crop in the ground this spring. There are several tactics, but Lee offered to do a story on two farmers who farm near to each other but who have very different strategies for dealing with a late spring.

As Lee chronicles on page 17, the Hanmer farm at Govan, Sask., learned more than a few valuable lessons from the very wet 2010 season and are swapping out their machinery accordingly. No, there’s not much you can do about the rate at which fields dry, but you can change your tractor, the tires and implements to improve floatation. It’s no guarantee of success, but you have to try something, right?

For the Gust clan at Davidson, Sask., they’re building off the experience of last year and drawing a line in the sand. As Gerrid says, at some point it really does get too late to try and get a crop in. Determining that date ahead of time and sticking to it is another matter, of course, as often the temptation to just grow SOMETHING becomes too great. The Gusts have lined up shorter season varieties, just in case, and plan to swap out crop types based on the seeding window.

There’s always the option of trying a whole new crop, too. In the next issue ofGrainews we’ll look at some shorter-season crops or those that tolerate harsh fall conditions better to help you make a decision if June rolls around and you’ve still got too many acres unseeded (but let’s hope not, eh?).

FEEDBACK

I’ve often noted here how much I value feedback from readers. Over the last few weeks, it’s been great to hear what from many of you about which stories you’ve found useful, what you want to see more of and yes, even the few things we may have missed the mark on. Scott Garvey,Grainewsmachinery editor, writes on page 34 of this issue that he’d like to hear more from you, too. Consider this your chance to have someone else do all the footwork of researching the usefulness of a new implement or comparing available GPS setups (see the April 18 issue for more on that). If you’ve got time, drop Scott a line and let him know what you’d like to see in the Machinery and Equipment section of this magazine. We’d appreciate it.

Here’s to spring actually arriving! Lyndsey

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