Resistant Weeds

Published on: 15:31PM Aug 03, 2015

My rule of thumb for weed control has boiled down over my career to this: my goal is to have nearly clean fields on the first of august. My rationale was after that the weeds did not take much from yield or complicate harvest.

Glyphosate changed that. As a result, weeds that can germinate late or hide under the canopy are succeeding. Our choices are selecting for resistant weeds, and the headaches and herbicide bills are back in my life big-time.

One indicator of this growing problem is the effort by Monsanto to add to its pesticide portfolio by acquiring Syngenta. New blockbuster seed tools from biotech may be scarcer, so old chemistry is becoming more valuable.

Unfortunately, the timing for this new need for better weed control is not great. Just as crop prices are swooning, key field inputs – fertilizer, seed and now pesticides – are either remaining stubbornly high or climbing.

These are costs that are difficult to control, as well. Farmers looking for low cost alternatives have a narrow range of options with similar prices. Plus you can only cutback so much before yields and returns plummet, especially in the long run.

There is only so much blood you can get from a turnip, however. Something must give in our budgets. The money I now need to spend on problem weeds is money that won’t go toward new machinery, drainage or aggressive rents.

I suspect many of us will try to slide by another year before spending up to control resistant weeds, at least around here. As a rule we have to be faced with a crisis before we make painful adjustments.  My experience is this strategy often has a lot of unexpected economic collateral damage.

We’re going to earn our profits the hard way going forward. Our time of prosperity has switched to a time of parsimony.