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New Year's resolution: maintaining technology's effectiveness

New Year's resolution: maintaining technology's effectiveness

Looking for a New Year's resolution? Try avoiding the "tragedy of the commons" and maintaining technology's effective lifespan.

With the start of a new year, a new cropping season is right around the corner. It's that time of year when everyone makes a commitment to start anew with a New Year's resolution – in some cases just to break that resolution a few months down the road. This year, some growers may make it a New Year's resolution to control costs to mitigate losses from tighter margins.

True, there are some things growers could probably cut back on, including some of those extra practices adopted when corn was $7 a bushel. That's why it's important to evaluate the marginal benefit of extra input use versus marginal cost. But, there are some areas that shouldn't be skimped on, and one of them is weed control.

Many in the weed science community have heard of the "tragedy of the commons" in regards to resistant weeds. It's a term that's been used since the 1800s to describe a situation where those acting for their own best interests are acting contrary to the best interests of the whole, "the commons" – often by depleting a common resource.

In the case of weed control, that resource is chemistry. As herbicide resistance is mobile, the efforts of those who are following the proper stewardship practices to extend the lifetime of technology like glyphosate can ultimately be made futile by those don't. As a result of their neighbors sticking with a one-pass system, some producers are experiencing problems with resistant weeds despite adopting those good stewardship practices like overlapping residuals and multiple modes of action.

Of course, that was a challenge for all growers this year, when wet weather made it difficult to get in the field to apply overlapping residuals – remember all those soybean fields with waterhemp sticking up through the canopy later in the season? What's more, once weeds become resistant, they stay resistant – that's how natural selection works, and it's why they become resistant in the first place. That's why weed control, overlapping residuals, and multiple modes of action aren't costs to be skimped on, even if growers aren't already fighting a lot of resistant weeds.

The good news is, new tools and chemistries are becoming available to get a handle on resistant weeds. A robotics company in Germany is even looking into automated weed control. Deepfield Robotics, a Bosch startup company is developing a robot roughly the size of a compact car called the Bonirob that can autonomously navigate crop rows, distinguish between crops and weeds based on leaf shape, and use a rod to mechanically pound weeds into the ground.

Of course, it will take years of research and development before automated weed control reaches widespread adoption at the farm level. Until that day comes, the best option is to extend the lifetime of the chemistry available by following best management practices.

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