Observers expect to see problems next year when farmers begin using new dicamba and 2,4-D tolerant cotton varieties, along with the products developed to support them.
These technologies have been much anticipated as glyphosate-resistant pigweed has spread across the cotton belt, finally gaining a strong foothold in West Texas. Growers eagerly awaited new products, new systems, new technology — anything that would give them a fighting chance against a weed that has rendered some fields in the Southeast and Mid-South unharvestable.
Populations of resistant pigweed seem to explode, moving from a few isolated plants one season to devastating, uncontrollable infestations within as little as three years.
That’s the situation cotton and grain farmers hope to reverse or, in some cases, avoid with these new technologies. But with that hope comes a bit of trepidation about potential drift of these materials onto vulnerable crops, or plant injury following application from improperly cleaned spray tanks.
“Fear is a motivation,” says Bob Glodt, research manager at Agri-Search, Inc., a private research and consulting firm near Plainview. He and other industry and university representative discussed the opportunities and challenges in adopting these new technologies during a panel discussion at the recent West Texas Agricultural Chemical Institute annual conference in Lubbock.
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“Mistakes will be made,” Glodt says. “But I don’t think we’re going to have massive problems. The key will be for growers to see how this spray technology is different, and then learn how to use it. It will take time.”
Awareness will be crucial, he says. “Know which variety is planted in each field to avoid self-inflicted injury. Dealers, distributors, consultants, and university personnel will be available to help with the education component. Follow every label to a T.
“We can’t get away from using pre-emerge materials. We need to rely on them for all but the last 1 percent of weed infestation — which we can control with the new technologies.”
One reason Glodt says he doesn’t believe spray drift and other problems with dicamba and 2, 4-D will be as bad as some fear is farmer experience. “Producers in this area are used to dicamba and 2, 4-D. Sprayer clean-out may be an issue, but producers just have to discipline themselves to do it every time.”
New injection nozzles also will be helpful in adopting the new materials, he says. “These are incredible.”
CLEANOUT A MAJOR CONCERN
Equipment companies have their work cut out for them, says Tim Conley, Wylie Manufacturing, Lubbock. “We’re all working together on coverage, critical drift issues, tips, and pumps. Common sense is essential. Producers need to lower booms, slow down, correct angles of tips, and choose the best tips available for the chemicals being applied.”
For equipment manufacturers and dealers, sprayer clean-out will be a major concern. “Most manufacturers have systems available,” Conley says. “Direct infusers, mounted directly onto sprayers, will be the next thing.”
Potential trouble spots with that technology could include getting everything cleaned application of different chemicals. “Also, some chemicals mix more easily than others, and nozzle selection will still be important — one size does not fit all. Nozzle choice depends on the product and volume to be applied. We will need coarse spray nozzles to apply dicamba and 2, 4-D.”
“Read the label,” he emphazied. “Read the label.”
LOT OF STEEL, DIESEL
Economics will be a factor, Conley says, especially with depressed commodity prices. “Applying pre-emerge products correctly takes a lot of steel and diesel.”
Peter Dotray, professor and weed scientist at Texas Tech and at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Lubbock, says, “We have done a lot of work on product volatility, and on what we need to put into the tank to help volatility. But the label remains important; it provides information for appropriate use.
“I have no doubt these new technologies will be helpful for weed management,” he says. “But they will be part of a system. I don’t think anyone is recommending a postemergence-only program. I also think we understand the importance of weed size in application timing. But I do have concerns that things could go wrong. Herbicide applications are not always done right, and conditions are not always ideal.”
This year has been a good example, he says. “I saw a lot of very clean fields, where growers did things right, and I also saw some that were not so clean. I wonder if producers with those less-clean fields will be as aware of the potential for physical drift with these new products. A lot of things can happen, and I hope we do it right to improve efficiency. I hope we do it right to prevent disaster. Help is on the way.”
GET CONTROL EARLY
Wayne Keeling, Texas AgriLife research agronomist, Lubbock, moderated the panel and offered a comment on pre-emergence herbicide use. “A good reason to include pre-emergence herbicides is to get good control early, and buy some time for postemergence operations,” he says.
Communication will be essential with the new technologies, says Kerry Siders, Texas AgriLife Extension integrated pest management specialist for Hockley and Cochran counties. “We need to be good neighbors,” he says. A crop registry program, in which fields are tagged as to crop and variety, could help avoid accidental injury or damage from spray drift.
“Recommendations on tips, gallonage, and application methods have already been worked out. Stick to the formula. We will continue to learn about adjuvants and other issues, but the basics are done. Watch boom heights and speed during application — it’s when sloppiness comes in that things start falling apart. We also have to pay attention to who is on the sprayer; make certain the operator is trained to use the equipment correctly.”
Product stewardship will extend the life of these technologies, he says. “Xtend and Enlist will help fill in the gaps, but if we overuse them we will lose two tools we need for weed control in grain production.”
Producers also should evaluate their “scale of operation,” he says. “We’ve built our production systems around Roundup technology for the last 20 years. With these new technologies, we need to consider timing, weed size, and production economics to determine what is the best scale of our operation so we can manage all aspects of production, not just weeds.”
“Times are tough,” says Keeling. “Prices are not good, and expenses are high. We have to get back to the basics.” Those basics might include some old technologies, such as preplant incorporated herbicides, hooded sprayers to apply postemergence herbicides, cultivation, and hoe hands.
But he says, spending $5 an acre now to hoe out pigweed escapes, could result in a lot more savings in the future.