There are some weedy, ugly pictures of soybean fields online right now. If you haven’t seen any yet, do your poor heart a favor and don’t go looking.
Along with said pictures is a lot of distress. About chemistries. About new technologies. But really, about the weeds.
Which is the main problem. The weeds.
We farm in Nebraska, USA: the damn epicenter of resistant weeds. We’ve got the whole spectrum of tolerant weeds, and more on the “oh crap” end than on the other. We’ve got the big and bad and the bigger and badder. It’s pretty lousy.
It’s lousy enough, in fact, to knock our focus off center. We see the weeds and we blame the new chemistries for failing to deliver. But remember, what need would we have for new chemistries if not for the weeds? They are the main problem. And they didn’t show up overnight.
They’ve grown bit by bit, increasing their tolerance bit by bit, through decades of small mismanagements, until we arrive at today and find that old chemistries like HPPD inhibitors, glyphosate, etc. barely phase them.
Our industry as a whole—from top to bottom, big to small—has made mistakes in the past 20 years in weed management. We haven’t done it as well as was needed and here we are.
And as we all well know, there’s no changing the past. We can only learn from old mistakes, less we’re destined to repeat them.
So I come back to these new chemistries, currently being maligned online. Xtend. Liberty Link. Enlist. All have some amount of controversy surrounding them, for their off-target risk or efficacy risk or a combination of the two. Growers have used them and experienced their dark sides. And some have taken to the internet to let us know. Some of the blame is misplaced on the new technologies because we have had to do increasingly complex things to control weeds in corn as well. In some cases when all the rules and label recommendations were followed issues still arose because of Mother Nature’s unpredictability of 2017. None of this means the new technologies are bad and need to go away, it’s quite the opposite, we need to learn from 2017 feed it through the OODA Loop and move forward.
Which is all well and fine and very much their right, but let’s not forget the weeds. These chemistries are an effort to respond to weeds that have stopped responding to our go-to solutions. They are more complicated according to their more complicated demands and they require increased responsibility, communication, precision, and a sense of accountability.
Which isn’t to say that growers who have seen these new chemistries fail failed themselves in any category above. The chemistries are new and very much imperfect.
But we have a challenge here—the nastiest of weed problems—and we need all technology at the table to help us get it under control.
And then we, friends, need to use it with the utmost respect. We’ve stumbled through weed management for decades. Now, we need to be better. Or best. We have to plan, to communicate, and to execute at the top of our abilities. We need to follow all rules—to use the recommended nozzle selection and adjuvant with the Dicamba family, to meet the pressure and volume requirements with Liberty, and to follow through on whatever actions Enlist will ask of us. We need to toe the lines. And we need to better document the conditions under which we make any applications so that we might contribute to the improvement of their functioning.
The rules mitigate the risks. It’s time to follow them (read: no off-label applications and no letting the weeds get too big before addressing them). This is an opportunity as an industry and as individual professionals to stop good practices from winning over best ones.
This is a chance to practice stewardship in its purest terms. Our weed management practices have been, for decades, increasingly ineffective. And so here we are today facing the mistakes of the past. It is not our destiny to repeat them if only we take action and do all the things that are asked.