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Barnyardgrass drives weed control in Arkansas rice fields

I hope a front page article in Delta Farm Press (Oct. 19, 2007) on barnyardgrass resistance in rice will reinforce some of the points I have been making on the need for new technology.

Much of my career as a weed scientist has taken place during the boom years of herbicide development.

We did not pay much attention to changes in the weed spectrum, herbicide resistance, and such because we could usually see answers coming as the problems developed.

For my entire career in the University of Arkansas system, I always had a carrot to dangle at the end of my weed control talks about something newer and better coming in the future.

The most weed science fun I ever had was a year or so before I retired when we had Clearfield rice, LibertyLink rice and Roundup Ready rice side-by-side in studies at the rice field day at Stuttgart. A colleague said, “Boy, you can reel farmers in with that.”

At the time I was thinking things such as, “What a great time to be a weed scientist in rice,” and “It can't get any better than this.”

Roll the clock forward and Clearfield rice is the only one of those that has made it to the market, and I am concerned that it may be the only one to make it to the market.

From where I sit, weed control technology development in rice is at a complete standstill for the first time in my career.

It has been interesting that my recent articles on the need for new technology have triggered completely opposite responses. One response has been from those who totally agree and the other from those who totally disagree.

I am glad folks read my articles, and I respect anyone's right to disagree. However, I see the weed situation changing, and I wonder what the future holds in terms of answers without a corresponding change in technology.

I have heard figures thrown out that half of the rice acreage will be planted to Clearfield rice in 2008. In the past when I have been asked how much Clearfield will be planted, my response has been, “How much seed will be available?”

When you add the use of some of the conventional herbicides to a Clearfield system, it represents superior weed control technology. Because of that, it is going to be the program of choice. In spite of some early lip service, there is no industry stewardship program — period. It is sell what you can now just as it has always been.

I must admit that widespread resistance development to Newpath and Beyond has not occurred as quickly as I thought — especially with red rice. This is a good thing. Because of the superior weed control capability of the Clearfield system on other weeds, it is not being viewed as just a red rice herbicide. This will continue to cause the acreage to increase to the extent seed production will support it.

While in the short term this may be good, where do we go when the resistance hits?

Barnyardgrass is the 2-ton gorilla that drives weed control programs in rice. We can do a lot by rotating the crops and herbicide programs that we have now. However, the continuing increase in the percentage of rice planted to Clearfield, and the discovery of a Command-resistant barnyardgrass speak to the need for new technology.

As a weed scientist, I like to have answers. I like to be able to tell a farmer, “That weed may be a problem now, but if you hang in there another couple of years, there is a new herbicide coming that will kill it graveyard dead.”

A weed like barnyardgrass in rice will drive crop acres and will drive weed control systems. I believe the entire rice industry must work to find a way to move technology forward. With the best new technology being GMO, it is obvious the weed science community can not move technology forward alone as it has in the past.

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