John Phipps: Why Iron May be the Best Weed Fighting Tool Available

09:29AM Jul 13, 2020
As weed escapes seem to become more prevalent, and the debate over herbicides continues to run rampant, John Phipps thinks the best weed fighting tool may come in the form of iron.
( Darrell Smith )

To celebrate the 4th of July, I’m driving around looking for tassels on our corn. I know the timeworn benchmark is “knee-high by the fourth of July” but for our latitude, hybrids and planting dates, it has gradually advanced to pollination.

And as is always the case, I have neighbors who fields are way ahead of mine, which doesn’t bother me at all. There are also in our area more unfortunate fields where rain frustrated planting, often more than once.

It’s also when I check familiar location for weed escapes. This field in particular. I bought over forty years ago and have been engaged in a death match with shattercane ever since. It’s a late emerging weed that surprisingly has not become immune to glyphosate, but still manages to survive to blight a handful of small spots and emerge to tower over the corn in August. On alternate years, we can control it with a late application of glyphosate, but regardless of the herbicide programs we’ve tried, it blights little pockets almost every corn year. I suppose I could switch back to GM corn and add the hassle of spraying tall corn, but the spots are small, and some years barely show up. And to be honest, every soybean year I think, “I’ve finally cleaned that shattercane out”.

One small area is right here along the road, and since my calendar of events is absolutely barren, I’m filling some hours plugging along through 4 rows a day, pulling it out. Given how 2020 is going, it’s morbidly satisfying, and when coupled with appropriate music like a Mozart requiem, the rest of your day will be a picnic in comparison.

Perhaps it is just the mood of the times, but this biennial persistence gives me the willies. I’ve noted more tweets and articles about resistant weeds; I’ve seen a few horrifying videos of row-crop cultivators in action, and even seen more moldboard plow footage that I have in decades, as other farmers experiment with Steel Weed Control.

Large, late-germinating seeds present a growing challenge to row-crop farmers, and new chemical technology is not a sure bet. Our absolute dependence on herbicides makes other options hard to embrace, but from some angles, it would appear the weeds are winning. There may be another glyphosate-type rabbit in the herbicide hat, but we may also be about to revive some ancient technology to grow our crops.

USFR 071120 - Johns World