Landowners say control is a factor in tenant selection
When Jake Clark talks about weed control, you can bet he’ll say the word stewardship in the same sentence. That’s because the 35-year-old corn and soybean producer insists on the latter when he addresses the former on the ground he farms with his dad, Pete, near Eagle, Mich.
Together, the two men have worked to build their operation to its current 10,000 tillable acres, 15% of which they own and 85% they lease.
Careful, consistent and considerate weed-control practices are an important part of their ongoing success. For one reason, much of the ground they lease lies in the shadow of the bustling state capital, Lansing. For another, the property owners they work with are increasingly concerned about the impact of weeds, especially herbicide-resistant weeds, on land values.
"As a farmer, you want people to know you are doing everything the right way, and that you’re a good steward of the land," says Clark, the sixth generation to work ground his great, great grandfather Jonas purchased more than 175 years ago.
Weed control plays a greater role than ever in leasing agreements, according to a 2010 study commissioned by Syngenta of 200 farm managers and rural appraisers based in the Midwest and South. More than 75% of respondents said the use of weed resistance management practices influences their tenant selection.
Appearance matters. "The highest bidder doesn’t always earn the right to farm the ground," notes Brent Bidner, vice president of Hertz Farm Management, based in Monticello, Ill.
Bidner, who manages 20,000 crop acres in central Illinois, says an important part of his role involves helping clients identify farmers they want to lease their land to long-term. That means taking more than financial benefits into consideration. Good references are paramount to the selection process. Bidner also evaluates soil fertility records and the appearance and condition of ground the lease applicant currently farms.
"How the guy’s crops look, his tillage practices, how clean his fields are, all of those things factor into the decision," Bidner says. He adds that weed control has become a more important consideration in Illinois leasing agreements because of concerns about herbicide-resistant waterhemp.
University of Illinois Extension weed scientist Aaron Hager says glyphosate-resistant waterhemp is present on 75% of the state’s tillable acres today. Worse yet, Hager has worked with one waterhemp population that exhibits resistance to four chemistries (glyphosate, atrazine, ALS and PPO inhibitors).
According to the Syngenta study, the perceived cost of managing glyphosate-resistant weeds alone more than doubled in a four-year period, notes Chuck Foresman, Syngenta global corn crop protection research and development lead. He says survey participants reported their perceived cost of control increased from $8 per acre in 2006 to $16.90 per acre in 2010.
Be ready with a plan. Iowa State University Extension field agronomist Jim Fawcett tells farmers renting new ground to assume resistant weeds are present and to adopt an integrated weed management strategy. That includes using multiple herbicide chemistries to address weeds.
"Go out with a pre-emergence that has residual and then come back with a post product," Fawcett advises.
Another option Fawcett recommends is the LibertyLink cropping system, which he says has not been widely used in his area. "You can use it on corn or soybean ground," he says.
Hertz Farm Management’s Bidner adds: "We also want farmers to use labeled herbicide rates and not reduced rates, which can contribute to control breaks."
If feasible, Luke Bozeman, BASF technical market manager, advises farmers to grow corn the first year they rent a new piece of ground. "You have more weed-control options with corn," he notes.
Fawcett reminds farmers to consider the challenge carryover herbicides might present this season, following the 2012 drought. In particular, he cautions farmers to not seed alfalfa on any ground where atrazine was used this past year.
"Some people have been able to do that in the past without much if any consequence, but I don’t believe that will be the case this year," he says.
Fawcett encourages farmers to not underestimate the power of scouting fields, especially new ones.
"Familiarize yourself with where problem areas could be in each field and what weed species are out there," he advises, "That’s one of the best investments you can make to address weed issues on new ground."
Be a Student of the Land
For Michigan farmer Jake Clark, establishing a weed-control program on newly leased property starts with studying the land. He gathers and evaluates any available information for each field before deciding on production practices or products. Here are some of the steps he takes to be a respected tenant:
Learn the neighborhood. The herbicide program you use for wide-open ground might well need to differ from those fields that butt up against housing developments. "You have to be spot-on with applications when there are 100 houses you’re spraying next to; the applicator has to really know what he’s doing—this isn’t like just driving a tractor," Clark says. He credits a 30-year
employee, Rick Kleinfelt, with Clark Farm’s successful herbicide-application process. Prior to applying a herbicide, Kleinfelt takes into consideration the field location, matches the correct spray nozzle to the herbicide used, evaluates weather conditions and also times spray
activity to minimize drift potential.
Learn the field. Try to find out what soil types and weed species are in each field prior to selecting herbicides. "We’ve found one herbicide might work better than another, even if they control the same weed species because of the soil profile in that particular field," Clark explains. County soil maps and local retailers who know the area are good resources. After application, scout new fields frequently during the season to see how well your weed control measures have held up. Make notes of weed breaks, specific species and their location in the field for reference the following spring.
Learn what the landowner values. Some landowners want more information than others about the type of products and practices you plan to use on their ground. Some rental agreements spell out specific requests, while some are still informal. Either way, Clark says landowners appreciate knowing about the investments you make in their ground, both in time and money, to keep their property weed-free.
You can e-mail Rhonda Brooks at email@example.com.