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Resistant weeds — five years out

I recently attended the American Seed Trade Association meeting in Chicago and spoke on the topic of Putting the Collar on Weeds with New Herbicide Tolerant Traits.

There are some traits in the pipeline besides Roundup Ready and LibertyLink that I hope will extend our weed control capabilities. The big buzz word now is “stacks.” I asked told by more than one industry person at the meeting, “Why are you so hung up on herbicide resistance because in three to five years we will have all of these stacks?”

I am glad they are coming. You know I love new technology. I am trying to feel warm and fuzzy that they are going to solve all of our herbicide resistance problems.

For some reason, however, I am very nervous. Part of the reason for complacency at the grower level, and thus the reason we are using up herbicides one mode of action at the time, is we have always had something newer and better coming.

We have never, however, dealt with potentially losing activity from a herbicide as important as glyphosate.

And, as fast as things are moving, three to five years can be an eternity with resistance development.

Currently I am aware of traits (for soybeans and also other crops) in the pipeline for dicamba tolerance, 2,4-D tolerance, Optimum GAT (glyphosate and ALS inhibitor herbicides), and tolerance to the HPPD inhibitors such as Callisto and Balance. All of these that make it to market will likely be stacked.

A stacked trait a lot of growers would love to have right now is a glyphosate (Roundup and others) plus glufosinate (Ignite) combination. I am frequently told, “I like the LibertyLink potential, but I want to wait until it is stacked with Roundup Ready to use it.”

I share the enthusiasm for this combination and to me it makes the most sense of any — at least in the short run. While I do not feel the two herbicides make good tank mix partners, they could sure make a good one-two punch and get some growers past the hurdle of not wanting but one technology on the farm.

Like the other above traits, I am told three to five years is the timeline for getting this stack to the market. If the train wreck is to be averted, I do not believe we have this time to wait.

With the potential stacks from some of the traits mentioned above, everyone seems to believe glyphosate will be the primary herbicide — just as it is now — and the other traits will simply allow us to add an herbicide that will make Roundup Ready back “as good as it used to be.”

I sincerely hope that is the case, but I am not as optimistic as some. Well over 90 percent of the soybeans in Arkansas in 2010 will be Roundup Ready. In those fields with major Palmer pigweed infestations, an intensive conventional herbicide program will be required.

If that program works well enough to control the pigweeds, it will control most of the other weeds as well. Therefore, what will glyphosate contribute in those fields? If you miss the pigweeds with the conventional herbicides, glyphosate will control everything but the resistant pigweeds and they are going to choke out the other weeds anyway.

At the rate we are using up the technology, I have no idea what that picture will look like in three to five years, but I have the feeling it will not be pretty.

Next week I will look at the newer traits. I am certainly for getting every possible tool in the toolbox we can. All of the potential new traits can have a place. However, with the exception of LibertyLink, none of the new traits have the potential to be a Roundup Ready by themselves.

We need a rapid increase in crop diversity, herbicide diversity and a ramp up of LibertyLink right now. If we stay on the current path and continue losing the effectiveness of glyphosate, a lot of the new technology we are counting on may not look nearly as good in three to five years as it would if it were available today.


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