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How to manage herbicide-tolerant weeds?

I am finishing a talk for the American Seed Trade Association meeting in Chicago. My assigned topic is “Putting the Collar on Weeds with New Herbicide Tolerant Events.”

That was the program committee’s choice of title — not mine. However, it is catchy and has provided quite a challenge.

The first thing I will attempt to do in the talk is to remind the audience that we put the collar on weeds with a herbicide-tolerant event in the late 1990s with Roundup Ready. The problem is the collar is slipping off in several areas of herbicide resistance.

I know very little about the herbicide industry or seed business — all of my training is in how to kill weeds. Based upon what I think I see coming, the future is going to be very interesting. I think I even see a lot of high stakes poker among the companies in the future as they try to outguess the weeds and compete for farmer dollars.

I was told years ago by colleagues, both at home and abroad, that Roundup Ready would just provide another herbicide in the arsenal and farmers would never base a production system simply around choice of herbicide. My response was, “You are fixing to get run over by a freight train with a ‘big red M’ on the front of it.”

There is another freight train coming — at least in the South — that has herbicide resistance on the front of it. Essentially every company is scrambling for their share of the answer.

The Monsanto approach appears to be to base a program around conventional herbicides for the next several years until they get here with a Roundup plus dicamba stack trait soybean.

This would seem to be pretty high stakes poker. They really do not have any choice and currently the farmer does not either. There are a lot of pitfalls trying to control weeds with conventional herbicides. If that were not the case, Roundup Ready would not have taken the market by storm.

With the conventional system, if you have one hiccup early, the chances for a grown-up mess increase rapidly.

Another pitfall has the attention of academic weed scientists — much of the conventional chemistry that this system will depend upon belongs to a class called the PPO inhibitors. These include Reflex, Flexstar and Valor.

Palmer pigweed resistance has been documented to the PPO chemistry and this could rapidly accelerate as we become more dependent upon them. Some scientists are questioning if this is really sound resistance management approach. Out of necessity, however, this approach is one place to begin trying to get the collar back on.

The other part of the equation is how much of an answer will a dicamba trait provide and does it have a good chance of being successful? I will provide my thoughts when I discuss future traits.

The next trait to try to get the collar back on with is LibertyLink. In my opinion, agriculture has no choice but for this technology to be successful. It is the alternative trait that is here now. It came on the scene late last year due to late approvals in some of the export countries.

There have also been the normal new herbicide, new varieties questions. Many of those are being answered in a positive way.

I admit to being surprised at the apparent pushback at the retail level and also the grower level. A lot of weed scientists are asking, “Why aren’t farmers beating the door down for this technology?”

There is some high stakes poker on the part of Bayer as to whether the technology will overcome early hurdles and move forward. I believe it will because the technology is good and the weeds will demand it.

Potential new traits I will discuss later have unknowns of their timetables as well as the roles they may play. However, it farmers plant all of the LibertyLink seed available and the seed companies ramp up as quickly as possible, it will be several years before the quantity of seed will be available to allow this technology to be the viable herbicide rotation program we need across widespread production areas.

Next week I will try to peek more into the future at more high stakes poker.


TAGS: Soybean
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