Herbicide Adoption Contributed Greatly to Increased Corn Production

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Corn yields tripled in the U.S. between the 1930s and 1980s. Many new technologies and practices contributed to this increase in corn yields: hybrids, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, increased plant populations, early planting. A researcher at the University of Minnesota studied all of these factors to determine their contribution to the increase and determined that herbicides contributed about ¼ of the increase due to better weed control.

“Corn (Zea mays L.) yields in Minnesota have increased from the 2,010 kg/ha yield level of the pre-1930’s to the current 6,290 kg/ha average. This increased yield can be attributed to a series of technological, cultural, and management practices adopted by farmers. My objective is to attempt an analysis of the magnitude of the changes and the relative contributions to grain yield each practice has made over the 50-year time period.

Improved weed control by the use of herbicides on 93% of the hectarage has increased yields 23%.”

Author: Cardwell, V. B.
Affiliation: University of Minnesota, St. Paul.
Title: Fifty years of Minnesota corn production: sources of yield increase.
Source: Agronomy Journal. 1982. 74[November-December]:984-990.

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Rain: A Huge Risk When Not Using Herbicides

Tractor in a Field

Cultivator Stuck in a Wet Field

Farmers who use herbicides to control weeds have great flexibility in the timing of applications. Farmers who use cultivation to remove weeds do not have much flexibility. Cultivation must be done when weeds are small. If a field is too wet for a tractor to enter, cultivation cannot be done and the weeds continue to grow and cause crop yield loss. Recent research shows that the wet field problem is common and that relying on cultivation instead of herbicides results in a yield loss of about 26% one-third of the time.

“Wet weather during the early part of the growing season was the major reason that mechanical weed control was difficult in some years.

This variability fit our observations of the trials that there was a large range in annual grain yields in the organic systems depending on how favorable the weather was for mechanical weed control.

The field crew reported problems controlling weeds in the organic systems in 1993 and 1998 at Elkhorn and 1993, 1996, 2000, and 2001 at Arlington.

Based on the above summary, we estimate that the frequency of weed control problems and subsequent reduced yields in low-input row crops is roughly 34 out of every 100 cases and the corresponding relative yield is approximately 74%.”

Authors: Posner, J. L., et al.
Affiliation: Department of Agronomy, University of Wisconsin.
Title: Organic and conventional production systems in the Wisconsin integrated cropping systems trials: I. productivity 1990-2002.
Source: Agronomy Journal. 2008. 100[2]:253-260.

Do You Want Nematodes with Your Fries?

potate

Nematode-Damaged Potato

Farmers in Oregon and Washington grow 12 billion pounds of potatoes every year. 90% of this production is for processing into potato chips and fries. 80-90% of the potato acres in Oregon and Washington are fumigated every year to reduce populations of nematodes which are microscopic parasitic worm-like animals that live in the soil and penetrate potatoes underground. Females feed just under the potato skin and deposit 200 to 1000 eggs. Brown spots become evident when the eggs are laid. Growers fumigate the soil to reduce the nematode populations because of the potential for rejection of the potatoes for processing into consumer products.

Columbia root-knot nematode (CRN) infects and develops in potato tubers but does not cause yield loss. Columbia root-knot nematode causes quality defects such as galling on the surface and small brown spots surrounding adult females when peeled. The external and internal defects render tubers unacceptable for fresh market sales and internal defects are unacceptable for processing. For processed potatoes, if between 5% and 15% of the tubers in a field have visual defects the whole-field crop can be substantially devalued or rejected. Based on USDA 2010 yields and prices, the average gross value of potatoes in Idaho was $6,921/ha. The rejection of a potato crop grown on an average 52.6-ha center-pivot-sprinkler-irrigated field represents a loss of $364,000. The potential for dire financial consequences from the presence of CRN in potato tubers is taken very seriously by producers.

Because potential for crop rejection exists with low population levels at planting, fields with any CRN must be treated with a preplant fumigant, nonfumigant nematicides, or both.”

Authors: King, B. A., and J. P. Taberna, Jr.
Affiliation: USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Kimberly, ID
Title: Site-Specific Management of Meloidogyne chitwoodi in Idaho Potatoes Using 1,3-Dichloropropene; Approach, Experiences, and Economics
Source: Journal of Nematology. 2013. 45[3]:202-213.

Slugs Thrive When Policies Promote Biodiversity

Garden Slug

Garden Slug

In order to increase biodiversity around crop fields, some countries have adopted policies to reward farmers for growing a diversity of plants in field margins. These diverse plants attract other species. Unfortunately, slugs thrive in these diverse field margins and move into fields.

“Most field margins on arable land in Switzerland are narrow and intensively managed. As a consequence, field margins generally harbor few plant and animal species. To enhance biodiversity in arable landscapes, sown species-rich field margins, so-called improved field margins, were introduced in 2008 as a part of the Swiss agri-environment scheme.  

Such field margins are semi-natural, permanent habitats a minimum of 3m wide sown with indigenous forbs, grasses and legumes and adjacent to arable fields.

Slug activity density was increased by the establishment of improved field margins in our study. This means that crops grown near improved field margins suffer a higher risk of slug damage. Where possible, farmers should refrain from growing susceptible crops such as oilseed rape or sugar beet adjacent to an improved field margin. If necessary, a strip treatment with molluscicide pellets may reduce slug damage.”

Authors: Eggenschwiler, L., et al.
Affiliation: Agroscope Reckenholz-Tanikon Research Station ART, Zurich, Switzerland.
Title: Improved field margins highly increase slug activity in Switzerland.
Source: Agron. Sustain. Dev. 2013. 33:349-354.

Gentlemen Farmers Find the Going a Little Rough

picture caption

Steve Kettelle, successful real estate broker

When several ultra-rich celebrities and businesspeople tried their hand at organic farming, they found the going a little rough.

Of course, they knew going in that growing any kind of crop these days demands not only a high level of skill and knowledge, but a comprehensive grasp of factors affecting the bottom line. Didn’t they?

According to an article in WSJ. Money magazine, these modern-day gentleman, and gentlewoman, farmers – who had hoped to prove the principles of organic farming once and for all – instead found it costly, incredibly labor intensive and full of confusing and often conflicting regulations.

“The nation is in the middle of an organic-food boom, and in case you haven’t noticed, a surprising number of boldfaced names are becoming part of it. That includes Oprah Winfrey. …as well as comedian Roseanne Barr.

This gentleman’s farming—or gentlewoman’s farming—movement has spawned its own lifestyle brand.

But the good intentions of these type-A types notwithstanding, the economics of organic farming are a potential blow to their fairly large egos. These are individuals with scores of successes in life, but experts say that despite the price premiums that come with organic labeling or other likeminded practices, the math doesn’t always work out. It is just too expensive to do.

With organic farming, there’s an issue of scale that makes turning a profit hard. In myriad ways, conventional factory farms benefit economically by virtue of their size; not just by purchasing feed and seed in volume, but also in handling pest and weed control. For example, on an organic farm, weeding can be far more labor intensive because it can involve actual weeding. And crops can wither due to one problem or another, with no jug of Roundup to remedy the situation.

“We had a late-season blight which consumed an entire potato crop….It can happen in a day,” says Steve Kettelle, a successful Florida real-estate broker who started a certified-organic farm in Pine City, N.Y., after partially getting out of the business before the bust, Kerrelle has learned over time to maintain a good diversity of crops in case one fails, which they inevitably do. He considers himself a success story in that he’s in the black with his roughly five acres of produce, but he concedes if he factored the time he puts into his plot, his hourly earnings “would probably be below minimum wage.”

Author: Passy, C.
Affiliation: Reporter.
Title: The New Gentleman Farmer.
Source: The Wall Street Journal. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303997604579242722533288250

No Small Wonder Why Farmers Use Herbicides

Soybean Growth With and Without Herbicide Treatments

Soybean Growth With and Without Herbicide Treatments

Farmers all over the world use herbicides to prevent weeds from taking over their fields. A large number of non-chemical methods of weed control have been tested and are available. However, farmers prefer herbicides. A prominent weed scientist cites the reasons why…..

“In comparison with herbicides, non-chemical methods of weed control are often: less effective, more unpredictable, more expensive, have labour/timeliness constraints, may not reduce the requirement for herbicides, may provide little or no visual evidence of success, may have adverse environmental implications and are often more complex to manage.”

Author: Moss, S. R.
Affiliation: Plant and Invertebrate Ecology Department, Rothamsted Research, Hertfordshire, UK.
Title: Weed research: is it delivering what it should?
Source: Weed Research. 2008. 48:389-393.

Carbon Footprint of Organic Weed Control Much Higher than Use of Herbicides

Cultivating Grape Vineyard

Cultivating Grape Vineyard

Farmers have a choice for managing weeds. They can apply herbicides or use cultivation to remove weeds. It takes 2-3 cultivation trips to equal the effectiveness of a single herbicide treatment. As a result, organic farmers, who cannot use herbicides, release more carbon to the atmosphere than farmers who use herbicides.

“When it comes to farming, Monterey County winegrape grower Steve McIntyre believes in using the best management practices available. Some are conventional and some are organic. Bottom line: they’re sustainable.

McIntyre, whose office is in Soledad, farms about 800 acres of winegrapes in the county, which is fast becoming one of the state’s premier winegrape growing regions.

“To me, farming organically or biodynamically is like farming in a box. There are too many rules if you don’t have the opportunity to use the latest and best science to lower your carbon footprint.”

McIntyre points to weed control to illustrate his point of where organic farming has its limitations.

“When you cultivate the weeds in the vineyard, new weeds germinate and come roaring back fairly quickly, as opposed to using a good herbicide, which results in the weeds coming back much slower.

“If you cultivate you have to make two or three trips through the vineyard, as opposed to one trip with a sprayer,” he continued. So with conventional farming, you have less equipment, less air pollution, fewer natural resources to build the equipment and power the equipment.

“If you look at weed control with a carbon calculator, there is a huge difference,” he said. “If you look at organic weed control, the carbon footprint for that is two or three times greater than the carbon footprint of a good herbicide.”

Author: Adler, S.
Affiliation: Reporter.
Title: Winegrape grower approaches farming like evolving science.
Source: Ag Alert. April 15, 2009.

Herbicides Help to Control Nematodes in Orchards

Nematode Damage

Nematode Damage (R)

Prior to the 1950s farmers of orchard crops in California had plenty of new land available as an alternative to replanting land that had previously been in production. However, with growing population and increased land values, a greater proportion of fruit and nut production has been on land where older orchards have been removed. Farmers frequently encounter growth problems when they replant. In severe situations, new plants die. Plant parasitic nematodes that are present on old roots are a common cause of the replant problem.

“Orchard removal and site preparation for walnuts can be extensive and expensive, but worth the time and expense to get new plantings off to the best start, according to Joe Connell, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Butte County.

Nematodes are a main concern, and the first thing that a grower should do is collect a soil sample from the feeder roots in the old orchard and have a nematode analysis done, Connell said.

After the soil testing, the next step is to cut down the trees, and then treat the stump with a herbicide, Connell said. Treating the stumps kills the entire root system, and it will kill out the nematode population that is attached to that root system, he added.”

Author: Coatney, K.
Affiliation: Reporter
Title: Walnut site preparation is essential for healthy orchards.
Source: Ag Alert. January 30, 2013.

Rice Insect Pest Invades the World from the USA

Rice Water Weevil Larva

Rice Water Weevil Larva

The home of the rice water weevil is the southeastern US where the species feeds on
grasses in swampy areas. When rice plants were introduced into America, the
insect quickly found this new grass plant to its liking and has been feeding on
rice ever since. The weevils move into rice fields every year from nearby woods
and clumps of grass. Farmers have used insecticides since 1950 to control the
weevil populations in rice fields. The rice water weevil has spread from the
southeastern US to Louisiana, Texas, California, Japan, China and Italy where
it would decrease rice production without insecticide sprays.

“The rice water weevil, Lissorhoptrus oryzophilus, is the most destructive insect pest of rice in the United States. The insect is native to the southeastern United States but has, over the past 60 years, invaded important rice-growing areas in California, Asia and Europe and thus poses a global threat to rice production.

Small-plot research and sampling of commercial fields indicate yield losses from the rice water weevil would likely exceed 10% in many areas if no insecticides are used.”

Authors: Stout, M. J., et al.
Affiliations: Department of Entomology, Louisiana State University.
Title: The influence of rice plant age on susceptibility to the rice water weevil, Lissorhoptrus oryzophilus.
Source: Journal of Applied Entomology. 2013. 137:241-248.

National Academy of Sciences Credits Herbicides for Adoption of Conservation Measures in the U.S

Tillage vs. Herbicides

Tillage vs. Herbicides

In the early 20th century, American farmland was eroding at an alarming rate. The cause of this erosion was continuous plowing of fields to keep weeds out. When herbicides were introduced to control weeds, farmers could reduce tillage. As a result, there have been major reductions in soil erosion in the United States. The National Academy of Sciences has pointed out that this improvement in conserving the soil would not have occurred had it not been for herbicides…..

“The use of herbicides has reduced the need for growers to cultivate to control weeds and that reduction has led to an increase in the practices associated with conservation tillage. These include no-till, ridge-till, strip-till, and mulch-till—practices that leave at least 30% cover after planting. Leaving cover after planting reduces soil loss due to wind and water erosion up to 90%, and it increases crop residue (organic matter) on the soil surfaces up to 40%. Conservation tillage in the United States has increased from 26.1% of the total acreage in 1990 to 37.2% of the total acreage in 1998. Without herbicides, widespread adoption of conservation tillage would likely not have taken place.”

Author: Committee on the Future Role of Pesticides in US Agriculture
Affiliation: National Research Council
Title: The future role of pesticides in US agriculture
Source: Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources and Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology Commission on Life Sciences. 2000.