The Battle Against Weed Resistance

If you read through the March issue of Cotton Farming that deals with pre-planting preparations and the ongoing battle against weed resistance, you can understand how serious this problem is. Our lead story certainly connects to the topic. After hearing how Steve and Skyler Droke of Hornersville, Mo., approach pre-season burndown, you can see that we have come a long way in the battle against weed resistance – specifically Palmer amaranth (pigweed). And when you read Stanley Culpepper’s My Turn column, you can gain even more of a historical perspective on this topic.

When I think back to how things were about 10 years ago, it’s hard to believe where we are today in terms of awareness of weed resistance. A decade ago, farmers didn’t really think too much about rotating chemistries or implementing a residual herbicide program. And I’m sure there were plenty of skeptics who wondered if farmers would ever have a sense of urgency about resistant pigweed and the need to have a “zero tolerance” for outbreaks in a field.

But that is exactly what has happened. Farmers today are vigilant in their approach to weed resistance. I always like to think back to 2006 when I was on a tour of south Georgia and observed a serious pigweed outbreak in a cotton field for the first time. I’m not sure what I expected. But photos don’t really do justice to how horrendous a cotton field can appear when it is taken over by resistant pigweed. It looks like a jungle with vines and out-of-control growth everywhere. The other media reps along for this trip were dumbfounded at what we saw. We chatted with consultants and Extension officials, and even though these particular fields were completely “taken over” by the pigweed, nobody was ready to panic. A plan was already being circulated from Stanley Culpepper at the University of Georgia about the approach that needed to be taken. In those days, it was all about starting the season with an effective burndown and not allowing any weed escapes prior to planting. At the time, most farmers didn’t think it was detrimental to have an occasional pigweed escape. But that was before we totally understood the utter destructive way pigweed could take over a field. Nowadays we understand how a single Palmer amaranth seed can multiply quickly in a matter of days.

As I walked around those fields in South Georgia, many of us wondered if this would be similar to the boll weevil problem that plagued the Cotton Belt until an effective eradication program was implemented. It’s hard to compare these two problems, but I am convinced that the resistant weed problem is in a class by itself. It has gradually spread from the Southeast into Texas. It is here to stay, but as you can tell by reading Stanley Culpepper’s My Turn column, the industry should be proud of what it has accomplished in the last few years. There is a sense of urgency now, and it is remarkable how quickly Extension, consultants and farmers have coalesced together.

The worst thing that could happen today would be if complacency set in, and farmers thought the battle was over. Until a new product comes down the pike that can be a “silver bullet, residual herbicides and effective burndowns are the most effective approaches. However, as many researchers are telling us today, farmers must be careful in their various tankmix herbicide combinations. Care should be taken to avoid damage to the young cotton plant.

In the end, farmers should be proud of where they are right now in the battle against weed resistance. But they can never let up or feel too comfortable. This problem isn’t going away anytime soon.

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