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"Because of rotation our yields are phenomenal"

About

  • Date

    20 März, 2018

About

Date

20 March, 2018

During the 100-day growing season on the Southern Alberta prairies you’ll see field after field of bright-yellow canola interspersed with soon-to-turn-golden winter wheat. It’s an idyllic sight. But appearances can be deceptive. Research scientists estimate that half of those fields have Group 1* herbicide-resistant wild oats and Group 2 weed resistance is spreading fast. So what has a Southern Alberta farmer like Roy Newman been doing to tackle this problem?
Roy Newman’s great-grandfather founded the family farm in Blackie, a hamlet around 70 km southeast of Calgary, in 1904. He farms 4,400 acres (ca. 1,780 ha) of fertile dark-brown soils. Around 3,800 acres (ca. 1,540 ha) are given over to wheat, canola, peas and malt barley; the rest is for hay to feed his 350-strong cow-calf herd. Beef cattle used to be the norm in Alberta and nearly half of all Canadian beef is still produced in the province. But times are changing, Roy says, and nowadays there are more crops. His calves are kept on pastures about 300 km north of his farm in Central Alberta during the short summer before being brought back to clean up his post-harvest grain fields; a neat form of agricultural recycling that typifies Roy’s far-sighted approach to farming.

Rotating crops and chemistry is a foundational practice

Roy first realized he had Group 1-resistant wild oats around ten years ago. “Misinformation was a problem when we were younger,” Roy explains. “Nobody warned us we’d have this problem through overusing the same herbicides year after year and crop after crop. Another factor was the oil wells many Alberta farmers have on their lands. As they couldn’t spray properly round the well-heads, the wild oats spread along the edges of fields.” Just how serious the resistance problem was on Roy’s land became obvious in a very wet year when, despite massive spraying, his yields were down 60 percent. “Since then, we’ve mitigated the problem through rotating crops and chemistry. Seven years ago I even hired an agronomist to advise me on getting the rotation right.” Now Roy is managing Group 1 and Group 2 resistance by rotating wheat, canola and peas and doing pre-emergence spraying on problematic fields. “By rotating the chemistries as well we’re keeping the weed resistance problem in check,” he adds. “Even on the worst fields where we’ve been battling resistant weeds for years, we’re slowly gaining the upper hand. It costs us twice as much in chemicals but yields are slowly returning to normal,” Roy points out. “It’s a costly venture but well worth it in the longer term.”

It pays off

Short-term profit maximization doesn’t work on a farm, Roy says. In his efforts to ensure his fourth-generation family farm is passed on to the upcoming fifth generation in an economically viable state, he has been grateful for farsighted advice from crop protection representatives. “They see the bigger picture,” Roy says. “They advise us not to use their product in a particular year because if we did, we’d run into problems. A sales guy stepping back like that generates loyalty and respect. If I’ve got a choice next time round, I’ll take that guy’s product because this time he recommended a competitor’s product with a different chemistry.” It’s this emphasis on long-term sustainability, and not short-term gains that is helping Alberta farmers like Roy to tackle the weed resistance problem.

IWM: the way ahead for sustainable weed control

With Group 1-resistant wild oats and Group 2-resistant cleavers and chickweed still a major issue in Alberta, how does Roy see the future? “I’m actually an optimist because weed resistance is a manageable problem,” he says. “We’ve been doing rotation for six years now and now we’re fine. And because of rotation our yields are phenomenal. If you do it right, weed resistance is fixable. But if you don’t get it right and just look for cheap, short-term solutions or simply play the programs, you’ll end up with major issues.” As Roy Newman has discovered, diversity in crops and chemicals is the only answer.

 

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About

Date

20 March, 2018