Superweeds are becoming a big problem all over the world, especially in the West where we love to use new chemicals and tech to make farming more efficient. But the more herbicide resistant weeds that grow, the less efficient we can be at farming.
It’s not just a case of pesky weeds getting in the way; the problem goes far deeper. Herbicide resistant weeds can be volatile, overtaking fields and killing crops. They can also have a very negative impact on the local ecosystem. Governments and agricultural governing bodies are starting to take the problem seriously, but still we don’t yet have a definitive solution to the weed problem. Many farmers are left to fend for themselves.
Some big herbicide manufacturers claim to have an answer; usually an even stronger herbicide (we see a pattern forming), but there’s always a large price tag attached. This is why we’ve come up with 10 ways to beat and prevent superweeds.
Below you’ll find 10 interesting ways, ideas and theories people have for how we can beat superweeds. Maybe you’ll find something that works for you…
1 – Monitor Wind Speed
To kill all the weeds in one fell swoop without leaving any to become resistant, you need to be incredibly precise.
When herbicides drift, not only do they damage native plants at the sides of your fields (or crops in the next field over) but they also mean that there’s less herbicide on the area you wanted sprayed.
Optimal wind speed for spraying is 3mph or less. You also need to consider how fast your tractor is going. It’s a very tight window but if it’s done right, you can minimize drifting to almost nothing at all.
Any wind speeds above 10mph and you’ve got a disaster on your hands. We realise that in some locations, higher wind speeds are impossible to avoid. This is why you need to be clever in working out wind direction and speed to reduce the impact of drifting herbicides with careful planning.
2 – Monitor Weed Growth
Get to know your specific weeds. Some can grow at a rate of one inch per day, so for very specific herbicides that need to be sprayed when the weeds are 4 inches tall, you have a very small window.
Take a sample of weeds from around your field and work out the average plant height. Time your spraying with the weeds for maximum effect. Of course, we realise that you more than likely have multiple weed species to deal with at one time, so be careful with multiple sprayings to catch them all.
It may be more beneficial to do spot spraying rather than blanketing the entire field, especially if you can pinpoint what areas weeds are most prominent in. Shady areas, for example, will be more prone to some types of weeds than others. Precision agriculture is your friend.
3 – Pre-Emergence Residual Herbicides
These are a fantastic way to remove weeds if you have trouble with wind speeds and precision spraying. That being said, you do need to have a good idea of what weeds you’ll be dealing with before they’ve even germinated so this isn’t ideal for every farm.
Residual herbicides are sprayed or layered onto your fields before the season even begins (so late winter is ideal) but not too early that the herbicide wears off before the weeds grow.
As the weeds emerge they are met with the herbicide and die. You kill of the weeds while they are still young.
There are a few problems with residual herbicides: won’t work on all types of weeds, like weeds that need herbicides to contact the leaves to work. It’s also prone to drift if you have heavy rain a week before the weeds emerge.
4 – Get Sneaky
Herbicide resistant weeds tend to occur when you get stuck in a rut, using the same process, method and chemicals year in, year out. So why not change it up and take the weeds by surprise?
Broad leaf weeds require a lot of sunlight, so next season why not till your rows a lot closer together, creating a canopy of crops that block out light and kill the weeds naturally?
Another, more preventive way of dealing with herbicide resistant weeds is to work around them. When it comes to harvest time, drive around the weed patches so that they’re not spread around the field so much. Come back to those patches last and be careful to make sure that anything harvested from those patches isn’t spread around to contaminate the rest of the field.
5 – Follow Label Instructions
As you’ll see at the bottom of this list, we mention 3 new herbicides that are designed for herbicide resistant weeds. If you are going to try these, you need to be very careful to not repeat the same mistakes as happened in the past. Bad practices have caused super weeds, so don’t make the same mistake twice or the problem will only worsen.
Follow the instructions from the manufacturer of the herbicide. They know exactly how the herbicide should be used best, so follow their instructions perfectly. If that means ignoring what your fellow farmer says and going against your gut instinct to follow the rules, you need to do it.
Cutting corners, under or over applying and also mixing chemicals is how we got into this super weed mess in the first place. Be sensible!
6 – Cover Crops
You didn’t think we’d give you an article on combatting weeds without mentioning cover crops, did you?
Cover crops can even help you combat super weeds. The right combination of cover crops strewn amongst your normal crops can help cover up any gaps that superweeds will take advantage of. You need to find a balance between your desired crop and cover crop to ensure they grow in unison rather than battling for nutrients.
You should already be using cover crops in fields that are going unused – this is basic farming that can really make a difference when then next season arrives. Cover crops also have lots of other benefits, so check out our extensive articles on them on our blog.
7 – Stop Waiting
You should realise by now that even though there are new, supposedly more effective herbicides being brought to the market every year, there isn’t going to be anything drastically new.
No one is going to come and save your farm, you need to do it yourself. Be proactive, sharp and ahead of the game. The big herbicide manufacturers are restricted – above all they must make a profit. They don’t care about your farm as much as you do, so it falls on your shoulders to work out the best way forward. Don’t become dependent on your herbicides and learn when to listen to advice (e.g. following herbicide instructions) and when to take your own path (e.g. not buying into the new herbicide unless it’s your only option).
8 – 2,4-D Improvements
2,4-D is still an effective herbicide, despite being decades old. The biggest problem with it however has always been drift. You spray it one place but it starts working in another depending on the wind direction, rainfall and other uncontrollable factors. 2,4-D was only reliable when it’s actually worked where you wanted it to.
But that’s changing. 2,4-D has made significant improvements in recent years to reduce the amount of drift that occurs. The less drift onto native, endangered plants and the more precise we can be with our spraying, the less likely we are to develop herbicide resistant weeds.
Scientists have achieved this by reducing the volatility of the chemicals in 2,4-D and Dicamba. It’s not yet perfect, but small changes like this that reduce drift are a fantastic step in the right direction.
9 – RoundUp Ready Xtend
Naturalists and eco-friendly protestors around the world already detest Monsanto. Sure, they are a big part of the herbicide resistant weed problem, but you can’t deny that they’re trying to stop it worsening.
One of their newer herbicides which is being marketed (rather skillfully) as an extension to their existing herbicide range is specifically for herbicide resistant weeds. Of course, you need to be using Monsanto’s special, herbicide resistant soybeans and other crops.
Monsanto is a business before anything else. They put profit over helping the environment and preventing superweeds. If you want a quick fix then that’s great, but if you want to beat superweeds once and for all, we need to leave Monsanto behind and take responsibility. That’s something to consider before you go and buy into their RoundUp Ready system.
10 – Enlist Duo
Enlist Duo is a special formula of chemicals used in the Enlist system for weed removal. It’s a very powerful herbicide that’s capable of completely eradicating super weeds that have developed a resistance to glyphosate.
The only problem is, this Enlist Duo could completely wipe out endangered plant species when used on farms. A very powerful herbicide like Enlist Duo needs to be used and monitored with extreme care. In a way you are playing God – this is going to have disastrous consequences if not used wisely.
Furthermore, how is this going to remove the problem of superweeds in the first place? There’s always going to be the same problem if we try and kill fire with fire. More herbicides make for more herbicide resistant weeds if not used properly.
If there is one thing you should take from this article it’s point number 7. Stop waiting. Reading, learning and planning are all essential steps but you can’t be stalling when it comes to action; it’s laziness and poor practices that got us in this mess to begin with. Start taking steps to prevent super weeds and, of course, don’t forget to leave a comment below letting us know how you’re getting on!