Our inconvenient truth

There is a new threat out there in the paddock. It is not soil borne, transmitted by insects nor harboured in trash. It cannot be foliar treated, spot sprayed nor eradicated by breeding of resistant varieties. Sadly though, it is prevalent in our industry. It is called complacency. 

Sadly, despite the international warnings and ever growing on shore issues with herbicide resistance, it would appear that in some quarters, the message is just not getting through.  Perhaps we are all just getting tired of hearing about it, or perhaps believe that it is only a problem in other cropping industries and areas but not ours. The bottom line is that resistance development is a natural process in plants, and we are always going to be confronted with this issue in varying degrees.

As scientists – and that is what we are and are qualified in, we tend to put our hope in the next silver bullet. But what if the ‘silver bullet’ is not out there? What if the ‘silver bullet’ does not come in the form of a chemical application that will fit perfectly into our current farming practices?

We have had our silver bullet in our industry that revolutionised the way that we farm. It is called glyphosate. This product, developed originally as an industrial descaler, has enabled us to move away from continuous cultivation and in the age of Roundup Ready® cotton, control weeds at various times of crop development. Now the future of this product from both an availability and efficacy perspective is in doubt.

The cloud that hangs over its commercial availability can be debated long and hard. The recent experiences of Australia’s live export trade have taught us that decisions in the name of the ‘greater good’ can and will be made at the stroke of a pen. Without setting off alarm bells, it is possible that our industry may need to put a Plan B in action – and quickly. This of course is all based on speculation, media attention and the outcomes of domestic court cases. The efficacy discussion however is a different ballgame. Herbicide resistance in our major weeds including those found in northern growing regions is real. It is already with us, and is calling for the Plan B.

The Western Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (WAHRI) was launched in 1998 as part of a GRDC initiative in response to the emergence of herbicide resistance in the State’s cropping systems. In 2009, following a recognition that herbicide resistance was not limited to one state and that a national approach was required, the organisation changed its name to the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative. The group focuses upon “research, development and extension /communications (RDE) of herbicide resistance and its management for profitable and sustainable cropping systems in the Australian grains industry.” (Beckie, 2019)  It is perhaps the nature of the development of the organisation, and its base in the grains industry, which has led to some apathy within the cotton fraternity that this is ‘not our problem.’

Much of the work and recommendations of AHRI and their industry partner WeedSmart are highly transferable to our own industry and their website and publications are a valuable resource in terms of farming options.  (They are also well worth following on social media.)  CCA member and AHRI Northern Weeds and Crops Extension Agronomist Paul McIntosh said that the message though is really a simple one.

“Whatever you do – Stop the seed set.

“If you stop an annual plant from going to seed you will never have Herbicide Resistance,” says Paul.

Weedsmart, are currently promoting their ‘Big 6’ approach to wise crop weed management where they recommend additional measures such as rotation of crops and pastures and mixing and rotating (full rate) herbicides.

Just as glyphosate has shaped our farming systems, so too will the next wave of mechanical and management options that we will need to incorporate in our future integrated weed management practices. For now, it is very much a ‘watch this space’ event, but upcoming developments such as instant resistance testing options, robotics and even new herbicides based on microbial action are already not far from commercial reality.

Our role as advisors and growers is to ensure that we play an active role in halting the spread of HR. This is everyone’s’ business and there is no longer any room for complacency.

Visit www.weedsmart.org.au and www.ahri.uwa.edu.au & www.cropconsultants.com.au for information on membership and professional development opportunities.

Beckie, H. e. (2019, June). Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative (AHRI)  celebrates is 20th Anniversary. Outlooks on Pest Management, 120-121. Retrieved from University of Western Australia: https://ahri.uwa.edu.au/

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