Reed Storey understands the need for effective herbicide options to control hard-to-manage weeds, including the poster child, pigweed.
“We need tools to fight resistant weeds,” Storey said from the seat of his cotton picker as he tried to get ahead of predicted rain near Marvell, Ark. “We have Liberty,” he said, “but we can’t rely on one chemistry.”
He says he knows of farmers who are thinking about cutting back or cutting out residual herbicides on cotton and soybeans next year to save costs and make up the gap created by low prices.
“They plan on relying on post applications only,” he says. Not a good idea, he adds, since that’s what created the situation with glyphosate resistant pigweed.
But he expresses concern with making dicamba the go-to product for resistance management.
“My problem with dicamba is volatility,” Storey says. He adds that one of his soybean fields this year was the worst hit he’s had. “And the herbicide traveled a long way, so it was not physical drift but volatility.”
He says that assumption has been supported by a weed scientist. “That field usually cuts 30 bushels per acre,” Storey explains. “This year it only made 18 after being hit two times.”
He admits that the situation is better this year, following the Arkansas Plant Board establishing an April 15 cutoff date, after which dicamba cannot be applied. He’s seen some dicamba injury, “but not to the extent we saw in 2017.”
Storey, 32, has a Master of Science degree in weed science from Mississippi State University, which he refers to as his “insurance policy,” if his dream of coming back to the family farm had not worked out. He says he expected issues to arise from approving the dicamba formulations for over-the-top use on cotton and soybeans.
“I expected to see resistance issues with dicamba,” he says. “I didn’t expect volatility. I also expected drift issues to be worked out before companies put the products on the market.”
He says companies developed a good package of drift minimization protocols, including formulations that reduced drift potential. Other recommendations, such as wind speed, sprayer speed, buffer zones and application timing, also seemed adequate to limit physical drift.
The volatility, he says, has surprised him. He adds that proposed labels “will be hard for applicators to follow,” because they can’t anticipate volatility and movements far beyond the field where the material is applied.
Storey points to other issues, as well, including potential damage to plants outside of agriculture. “I love the outdoors,” he says. “I like to hunt, and I am seeing some damage to oak trees, perhaps evidence of application after the cutoff date.”
These off-target misses, he says, adds ammunition to groups who have agriculture on their hit lists. “We already have a target on our backs from anti-GMO, organic-only, no pesticide and other groups,” he says.
“We say we are trying to protect the environment, but we may be at fault here. We need to practice what we preach.”
Storey says a new, less volatile formulation of dicamba is being tested and may hold promise as an acceptable replacement for current technology. “If this formulation is less volatile, and if it offers effective weed control, I will be all for it.”
He goes back to resistance management. “Weed scientists have said that third generation pigweed shows resistance to dicamba.” That, he says, underlines the need for a comprehensive weed management program.
Hoeing an Option
Chopping weeds may play a role, he adds. “Some have said they can’t afford to hire choppers. On our farm, our chopping cost is $3 to $4 per acre less than a herbicide application. That’s cheaper than applying dicamba, including spraying and cost of the product. If we chop multiple times, the advantage might disappear,” he admits.
“But, if we get good pre-emergence control, which is not always a given, we can do okay with chopping weeds.”
Storey acknowledges the desire to have an effective over-the-top, multiple species herbicide. “Farmers are looking for another Roundup to permit farming on a larger scale. But we need to ask: What acreage can we manage in a timely manner and still be profitable?”
He says improving efficiency could mean scaling back acreage.
He farms 2,500 acres, with 195 acres of corn, and the rest evenly divided between cotton and soybeans. “That’s the acreage I can get across and make timely applications,” he says. “That’s break-even and hopefully a profitable acreage.”
He adds that a loan officer friend of his acknowledges that profit per acre diminishes at a certain point, typically above 3,000 acres. “He (loan officer) says from 1,850 to 3,000 offers the best profit margins. We need to look at farming more efficiently.
“I don’t think it’s up to me to tell another farmer what acreage to work, though. I do think we might see some advantages with more efficient, maybe scaled-back operations.”
Storey says dicamba is not the only culprit. “I think we have had drift issues for a long time. We probably will always have drift issues.”
The difference between those other drift complaints and the issue with dicamba, he says, is attitude. “In the past, if herbicide drifted onto a susceptible crop, farmers got together and settled it on the turnrow.”
For some reason, Storey says, that has changed, and a simple handshake is not enough to settle drift damage.
He hopes to see that change and hopes, too, that a new, less volatile formulation may make a difference.
“For now, let’s put the brakes on until we get a formulation that works for everybody.”