Australian Wheat Yields Have Doubled Thanks to Herbicides

Australian Wheat Yield 1930-2010 (Trendlines)

Australian Wheat Yield 1930-2010 (Trendlines)

Australian wheat-growing areas are dry. Historically, tillage was used to remove weeds, but tillage further dried out the soil. Herbicides have made it possible for Australian wheat farmers to stop tilling entirely. As a result, soil moisture retention has increased and wheat yields have doubled.

“An analysis of the yield trends of wheat production in Australia showed that yields have increased by an average of 12-13 kg ha-1 year-1 over the past six decades, despite rainfall not changing and irrigated wheat contributing only a very small proportion to total production. A more recent analysis of wheat yield trends in Australia and the various states of Australia has shown that since the early 1980s there has been a more rapid increase in yield of over 30 kg ha-1 year-1. In Western Australia, where wheat is not irrigated and rainfall has probably declined over the last 25 years, the increases… arise solely from increases in rainfall-use efficiency.

However, the major impact of agronomic management on rainfall-use efficiency has not arisen from increasing total water use by the crop in evapotranspiration, but from increasing water use by the crop itself in transpiration at the expense of water loss by weeds or from the soil by soil evaporation, deep drainage, surface runoff, or lateral throughflow.

The use of minimum tillage or conservation tillage, whereby residues from the previous crop are left on the surface, weeds are controlled by herbicides rather than tillage, and the seed is sown with minimum disturbance of the soil surface by the use of narrow tines, has led to reduced losses of water by soil evaporation and increased yields. Further, minimum tillage systems allow earlier planting as delays resulting from using tillage to remove weeds are reduced.”

Author: Turner, N. C.
Affiliation: CSIRO Plant Industry.
Title: Agronomic options for improving rainfall-use efficiency of crops in dryland farming systems.
Source: Journal of Experimental Botany. 2004. 407[55]:2413-2425.

French Government Policies to Reduce Pesticide Use Will Lower Food Production


Pesticide Spraying: French Vineyard

French farmers spend several billion Euros on pesticides each year. A large number of pesticide treatments are made to crops in France: wheat (4), sugarbeets (4), rapeseed (6), potatoes (17), apples (36) and vineyards (7-22). The French government has announced a policy to reduce the use of pesticides by 50%. The French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) estimated the impacts on crop production as a result of the pesticide use reductions.

“The results demonstrated that the commitment of the Environment Round Table to a 50% reduction of pesticide use from current levels is a difficult target to achieve. During an average year similar to 2006, this could correspond to the results of a simulation under which all French farming would switch to integrated production: the reduction in pesticide use would then be estimated at 50% in arable crops, 37% in viticulture, 21% in fruit orchards and 100% in grasslands; drops in yield (in value terms) would then be observed, estimated at 12% for arable crops, 24% for viticulture and 19% for fruits (based on 2006 prices).”

Author: INRA
Affiliation: INRA
Title: Ecophyto R&D – which options to reduce pesticide use?
Source: Ecophyto R&D. January 2010. Pgs. 1-8.

Herbicides Improve Dove Hunting in the Southeast

Doves over a sunflower field

Doves over a sunflower field

The mourning dove is one of the most numerous, widely hunted, and economically valuable game birds in Mississippi and the Southeast. For decades, landowners and wildlife managers have planted fields in agronomic crops to attract doves for sport hunting—a practice that led to these types of fields being known more simply as “dove fields.”

“…dove fields traditionally have been planted in one or more grain crops such as corn, sorghum, millets, wheat, and sunflowers. Although the concept of planting sunflowers to attract doves is nothing new, their use as a dove field crop has been limited over the years. However, when environmental conditions permit, a well-managed stand of sunflowers can be one of the most productive dove fields in the Southeast.

Weed control is a key component of managing sunflowers for dove fields. Doves prefer to feed in areas of clean, open ground. An effective weed control program will render fields more attractive to doves.

Herbicide applications are the most practical and cost-effective means of weed control in sunflower fields. For many years, only a few herbicides were labeled and marketed for use with sunflowers. However, because sunflower production is on the rise, more herbicides are labeled for sunflowers than ever before. Weed control via herbicide applications is essential for maximizing sunflower seed yields.”

Author: Nelms, K., et al.
Affiliation: Natural Resources Conservation Service & Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Title: Growing and Managing Sunflowers for Dove Fields in the Southeast.
Source: Mississippi State University Extension Service Publication 2725. 2012.

Herbicide Use in Finland has Increased Significantly to Protect the North Sea

Herbicide sales: Finland

Herbicide sales: Finland

In 2001, herbicide use began to increase in Finland largely due to government policies subsidizing growers to no longer plow fields for weed control. Finland is a signatory to the North Sea Treaty which includes a goal of reducing nutrients into the North Sea by half. Research showed that a considerable amount of phosphorus moves into waterways with eroded soils from fields that are plowed in the autumn. Thus, growers now are using herbicides to control weeds without plowing in order to keep phosphorus out of the North Sea.

“Our weed survey represented part of a follow-up project on the impacts of agri-environment policy in Finland. For instance, reduced tillage has been one of the subsidized measures primarily implemented to reduce nutrient leaching. Spring cereals, 1.1 million hectares in total, covering 50-55% of arable land, dominate crop production in Finland. In the 1990s ploughing was still the standard tillage practice in spring cereal fields, while the latest statistics show that only approximately half of the cultivated cereal field area is currently ploughed. Ploughing has been replaced with reduced tillage methods (29%) or direct drilling (17%). At the same time, the sales of glyphosate have more than doubled within a decade in Finland.

Increased use of glyphosate in Finland is notable; in 1999, the annual sales of glyphosate products were sufficient to treat about 13% of arable land under cultivation or fallow, while the same figure had increased to 37% in 2010.”

Author(s): Salonen, J., et al.
Affiliation: MTT Agrifood Research Finland, Plant Production Research, Jokionen, Finland
Title: Impact of changed cropping practices on weed occurrence in spring cereals in Finland – a comparison of surveys in 1997-1999 and 2007-2009.
Source: Weed Research. 53:110-120. 2012.

Southern California Vineyards Recover Thanks to Insecticide Applications

Grapevines Destroyed in 1999

Grapevines Destroyed in 1999

Temecula Today

Temecula Today

In 1999, about one-third of the vineyards in Temecula Valley, Riverside County, California were destroyed due to Pierce’s Disease which is caused by a bacteria transmitted to grapevines by an insect-the glassy winged sharpshooter. The disease seemed destined to spread throughout Southern California. However, research demonstrated that a carefully-timed insecticide application would prevent the sharpshooter from transmitting the disease to grapevines. As a result of this insecticide use, the wine grape industry in Southern California has recovered and is prospering.

“Twelve years ago a Pierce’s disease epidemic in Southern California wine grapes prompted a multi-pronged local, state and federal attack to contain the disease spread and find a cure or treatment.

Riverside County agriculture officials declared a local emergency in 1999 and 300 acres of Temecula wine grape vines were destroyed after they were found to be infested with the glassy winged sharpshooter.

Emergencies were declared, a task force was formed, and in 2000 $22.3 million in federal financial assistance was secured to reduce pest infestations and support research.

Research found that the Southern California epidemics were almost entirely the result of vine-to-vine transmission…. A protocol of applying one carefully timed application of a persistent systemic insecticide such as imidacloprid virtually eliminates the vine-to-vine spread.

Ben Drake is a Temecula-area wine grape grower and vineyard manager who began seeing problems from PD in the Temecula Valley as early as 1997.

We’ve found that if we apply (imidacloprid) at the middle to the end of May, before the sharpshooter moves out of the citrus and goes into the vineyards, we get levels of the material into the plant high enough that when the sharpshooter flies over from the citrus groves to try it, they just fly back where they came from. Or, if they feed long enough, it will kill them.

But just look at the Temecula Valley now to understand what’s changed: From 12 wineries in 1999, the Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association website today lists more than 50 growers and 34 wineries…. A thriving agritourism industry has developed…. Existing wineries are expanding and new ones are under construction or in planning phases.”

Author: Christine Thompson
Affiliation: Reporter
Title: Grape growers urged to remain vigilant against sharpshooter pest
Source: Western Farm Press. 2011-12-12. Available at:

Fungicides Protect Africa’s Wheat Fields From Rust

Treated and Un-Treated Wheat

Treated and Un-Treated Wheat

Rust spores that land on wheat plants germinate and infect the plant withdrawing nutrients. Fungus tissue proliferates until the epidermis bursts and pustules erupt. Each pustule contains thousands of spores that can be carried by the wind to infect other plants. Stem rust damaged wheat crops on a massive scale in the early 1900s. However, resistance to stem rust was successfully incorporated into wheat in the 1950s. Resistance to stem rust in most breeding programs was through the use of a single resistance gene Sr31. In 1999, a new strain (UG99) was detected in Uganda on a wheat variety containing the Sr31 gene. Yield losses of up to 80% were reported. Fungicide use became essential.

“Stem rust, caused by Puccinia graminis, is a serious disease of wheat occurring frequently in warm and moist environments, which is typical of the wheat-growing areas in Kenya. Although the disease has been under control through widespread use of resistant cultivars, the reemergence of a new virulent race, TTKS, has reversed the gains made by breeders, posing a new and significant threat to wheat in the Eastern Africa region.

Widespread deployment and cultivation of resistant cultivars had generally provided adequate protection without the need for fungicides in the past. However, the ineffectiveness of resistance to the new race necessitates new interventions in the management of the disease as efforts to incorporate new sources of varietal resistance continue. All the current commercial wheat cultivars are highly susceptible to the new race, and it is not possible to grow a profitable crop of wheat without the application of a fungicide.”

Authors: Wanyera, R., et al.
Affiliations: Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.
Title: Foliar Fungicides to Control Wheat Stem Rust, Race TTKS (Ug99), in Kenya.
Publication: Plant Disease. 2009. 93(9):929-932.

Europe’s Wheat Yields Are the World’s Highest Due to Fungicide Use

Septoria leaf blotch

Septoria leaf blotch

In the EU, where high levels of subsidy supports are available, wheat crops are grown in an intensive manner. In Europe, 11% of the world cereal production comes from only 6% of the world’s cereal acreage. Since the 1990s, more than 95%of wheat acres in the UK, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands have been treated with fungicides. Average responses to treatment usually range between 0.5t/ha and 2.5 t/ha though where Septoria tritica blotch pressure is particularly high, yield responses of 5 t/ha are sometimes seen.

Article 01:

“Mycosphaerella graminicola is the causal agent of Septoria leaf blotch (SLB), an important foliar disease of wheat in Europe. Due to a lack of durable host resistance, disease control relies predominantly on the use of fungicides.”

Article 02:

“Yields of cereal crops in Europe are among the highest in the world and the levels and consistency of these yields is in no small part due to the use of fungicides to control the major fungal pathogens.”

Article 01:

Author: Bean, T. P.
Affiliation: Rothamsted Research
Title: Amino Acid Alterations in CYP51 Contribute Toward Reduced Triazole Sensitivities in a UK Field Population of Mycosphaerella graminicola
Publication: The BCPC International Congress – Crop Science & Technology 2005

Article 02:

Author: Redbond, A.
Affiliation: Market Scope Europe Ltd
Title: Cereal Disease Control in Europe
Publication:  International Pest Control, September/October 2006

Insect Saliva Lowers the Quality of Italian Bread Wheat

Damaged Grain

Damaged Grain

Sunn Pest

Sunn Pest

Italian bread dough is famous for its high quality. Several insect species feed on the wheat plants in the field and when they do, they leave a little saliva behind, which would lower the quality of the bread if insecticides aren’t used.

“Several species known as sunn pests or cereal bugs, have long been recognized as detrimental to wheat bread-making quality in south central Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. … In Italy, severe infestations of sunn pests have been reported in southern regions and also, although seldom, in the Po Valley.”

“For a long time, it has been recognized that damaged grains can show a discolored area around the point of stylet penetration and that flour derived from damaged kernels produces sticky dough and poor bread. The detrimental effect on baking quality is obvious even in presence of 3-5% damaged kernels and dramatically increases for values higher than 10%. The quality depletion is due to proteolytic enzymes injected in the kernels by insects via their saliva that persist in the flour after milling and cause breakdown of gluten structure in the dough.”

“Presently, no sources of resistance to E. Maura in Italian germplasm are known; thus the only way of reducing the damage is chemical pest control in the field.”

Authors: P. Vaccino1, M. Corbellini1, G. Reffo1, G. Zoccatelli2
, M. Migliardi3 and L. Tavella3
Affiliation: 1Instituto Sperimentale per la Cerealicoltura, Angelo Lodigiano, Italy; 2Dipartmento Scientifico e Tecnologico, University of Verona, Italy; 3University of Torino, Grugliasco, Italy.
Title: Impact of Eurygaster maura (Heteroptera: Scutelleridae) feeding on quality of bread wheat in relation to attack period.
Publication: Journal of Economic Entomology. 2006. 99(3):757-763.

China Warns of Famine Without Pesticides

Over the past several decades, China has become self-sufficient in basic foods such as wheat, maize, and rice. In addition, Chinese production of many fruit and vegetable crops has soared. The widespread use of pesticides has had a key role in this vast expansion in food production and without their use…

“China would ‘undergo famine if pesticides were not used’. The warning has come in a recent Ministry of Agriculture document entitled ‘pesticide residues in agricultural products and related safety issues’, reports the national newspaper, the AgriGoods Herald.”

“China has more than 1,700 types of plant disease and insect pests, with major pest outbreaks occurring on over 400 million hectares annually. Laboratory findings released by Chinese agrochemical company Beijing Yoloo Pesticide showed that rice production would be reduced by more than two-thirds if pesticides were not used, and wheat production would be halved.”

Authors: Agrow staff writer
Headline: China warns of famine without pesticides.
Publication: Agrow. 2012. No. 642, June 20.

European Organic Wheat Suffers from “Stinking Smut”

Common bunt is one of the most destructive diseases of wheat. As the fungus grows in the plant, the wheat kernels are converted to bunt balls that, when crushed, release thousands of black spores. They smell of rotting fish, hence the name “stinking smut”. Because of effective chemical seed treatment, common bunt had become a forgotten disease—until its reemergence in European organic wheat.

“The legal requirement for organic seed has compounded the bunt problem in Europe. For many years, it was possible to use conventionally produced seed as long as the cultivars were not of transgenic origin and the seed had not been treated after harvest with synthetic fungicides. All of this changed with Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1452/2003, which stipulated that beginning January 2004, all plant materials used for organic agriculture must be produced under organic farming conditions.”

“In conventional agriculture, common bunt is often exclusively controlled with chemical seed treatments. … Now, more than half a century after common bunt was thought to be vanquished, it has re-emerged in organic wheat. … In the United Kingdom, organic seed lots are predominantly contaminated with common bunt spores.”

“Contamination of wheat with common bunt spores has resulted in considerable loss of yield and seed quality. … Given the epidemiology of the disease, it has the potential to cause economic devastation to low-input and organic farmers.”

Authors: J.B. Matanguihan, K.M. Murphy and S.S. Jones*
Affiliation: *Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Washington State University
Title: Control of Common Bunt in Organic Wheat.
Publication: Plant Disease. 2011. 95(2):92-103.