Diversity in rotation, stale seedbeds & late sowing
Driving through La Beauce past vast fields of wheat and oilseed rape, you begin to understand why agriculture enjoys such significance in France. In the heartland of French farming Damien Beaujouan (47) is a passionate fourth-generation farmer cultivating 150 ha of fertile clay and limestone soils near Mer, a small community in the Département Loir-et-Cher. Damien took over the family farm from his father in 1999 and will one day hand it over to his son Lucas (16). It is this generational perspective that drives Damien’s thinking on sustainable weed management – sustainability for his son’s sake.
How Damien overcame weed resistance
Damien’s story begins with the significant resistance problems his father encountered in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, farmers in La Beauce used herbicides with the same mode of action year after year and also reduced the herbicide dosage, mainly driven by the idea of simplifying weed control at farm level and reducing input costs. Such thinking was commonplace, and had dire consequences. By the time Damien joined a Bayer weed management platform in 2007, weeds were frequently reducing yields in the region by up to 30%. What motivated Damien to participate in the Bayer platform? “Mainly the desire to hand over to my son a profitable farm with good-quality soil,” he explains. “If I introduce new ideas and take a long-term perspective, my farm will survive. If I don’t, I’ll just be one farmer among many and my son may not have anything to inherit.”
Damien’s favorite measure against weed resistance
Participation in the Bayer platform from 2007 to 2013 introduced Damien to some new weed management ideas, e.g. tillage just after harvesting, not plowing every year, and introducing new crops in the rotation for weed management purposes and not just for economical reasons. At the same time, he says with a smile, “I brought the Bayer people back to earth in a very fruitful cross-fertilization process!” The new ideas obviously bore fruit with Damien. Since 2013, he has extended the pilot project from a single plot to all his land and is now practicing multiple crop rotation with soft wheat, durum wheat, corn, barley, alfalfa and, most recently, sugarbeet. “For me crop rotation is the most important measure against weed resistance. I know that introducing sugarbeet is risky because I don’t know this crop. But as a replacement for corn, sugarbeet is a good rotational crop as it means I can use a different herbicidal mode of action – and sugarbeet also needs less water.”
Other best practices for successful weed management
The two other crucial anti-resistance measures Damien practices are stale seedbeds and late sowing. In 2016 Damien harvested his crops in July, prepared 2-3 stale seedbeds in the following months, and did not sow until early November to reduce weed pressure. “This involves a lot more planning and thinking,” Damien admits, “and I also need patience and strong nerves to wait for a suitable late sowing date when all my neighbors have long finishing drilling. But the results are well worthwhile from a weed management perspective.” Adaptability and agility are Damien’s strengths.
Unfortunately, few of his fellow farmers have the courage to follow his example. “I’ve talked to many of them about introducing more diverse and effective weed management techniques. ‘Very interesting’ they say, but they aren’t willing to adopt them, even though they face severe weed pressure problems and are now having to apply several herbicide treatments.
That’s much more expensive than what I do!” Fear and habit, Damien says, are the biggest barriers to the application of effective weed management techniques. Too many farmers in his neighborhood are still confident that new herbicide products are the solution to weed resistance problems. But as new herbicidal modes of action are not on the horizon in the next 15 years, Damien is banking on multiple crop rotation, stale seedbeds and late sowing to ensure he hands over a farm with a future to his son Lucas.