Herbicides Have Helped Stabilize Wheat Production in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan ranks in the top 10-15 wheat-producing countries in the world depending on weather conditions (drought is a significant factor 2 out of 5 years). Kazakhstan is a major exporter of wheat with about 4 million tons exported annually. Weeds are a key limiting factor in Kazakhstan’s wheat production; however, recent increases in herbicide use have significantly reduced yield losses.

“Although weather remains the single most important determinant for grain yield in Kazakhstan, improvements in crop management practices fueled by the growing State subsidies have contributed to the recent increase and relative stabilization in wheat yield.”

“According to specialists at the Ministry of Agriculture, nearly half the total cultivated area in Kazakhstan is infested with weeds, including 2.5 million hectares infested with black oats. Between 1999 and 2002, farmers applied virtually no herbicides for the control of black oats on approximately 320,000 hectares. In 2003, treatment expanded to 1.0 million hectares thanks to government subsidies of about US$2 million which reduced farmers’ cost of chemicals by 30 to 40 percent. Herbicide subsidies increased to nearly US$3 million in 2004 and the treated area grew to about 1.4 million hectares. Specialists report that weed infestation has decreased by about 15 percent every year since the anti-black oat campaign was launched.”

Author: Mark Lindeman
Affiliation: USDA Foreign Agricultural Service
Title: Kazakhstan Wheat Production: An Overview
Available at: http://www.fas.usda.gov/pecad2/highlights/2005/03/Kazakh_Ag/index.htm

Italian Farmers Realize Profits from Herbicide Applications

In Italy, herbicides to kill weeds in crop fields have been routinely used on almost all the acres for the past 30 years. Is the cost of the herbicide application justified considering the levels of weed infestation? Italian researchers examined the record…

“The frequency distribution of yield loss due to weeds in winter wheat, sugar beet, maize and soybean has been studied using the available data of weed control trials undertaken in north-central Italy in the last 30 years. The breakeven yield loss and the probability of obtaining a positive net return from chemical weed control were calculated, considering different treatment options and different weed-free yields.”

“In winter wheat the probability of a positive net return from chemical weed control is high, between 80.5 and 97.3%. … As far as other crops analysed are concerned, the probability of a chemical treatment being profitable is >80% in maize and soybeans and >95% in sugar beets.”

“The profitability of chemical weed control depends on the density, composition and time of emergence of the weed flora, on the competitiveness of the crop and on the chemical used. In most cases, however, it is profitable to spray; in other words in the Po Valley there is a high degree of probability that the weed density is sufficient to bring about a yield loss greater than the treatment cost.”

Authors: G. Zanin¹, A. Berti² and M. Giannini³
Affiliation: ¹ Instituto di Agronomia Generale e Coltivazioni Erbacee, Padova, Italy; ² Centro per lo Studio dei Diserbanti del CNR, Padova, Italy; ³ ESAV, Venice, Italy
Title: Economics of herbicide use on arable crops in north-central Italy.
Publication: Crop Protection. 1992. 11:174-180.

Birds Prefer Conventionally Grown Wheat Due to Higher Protein Levels

There is considerable debate about the merits of consuming organic foods. Some studies have found that certain animal species prefer to eat organically-grown crops. However, these results have been challenged by a recent study…

“One key reason why consumers buy organic food is because they consider it to be better for human and animal health. Reviews comparing organic and conventional food have stated that organic food is preferred by bird and mammals in choice tests. This study shows the opposite result – that captive birds in the laboratory and wild garden birds both consumed more conventional than organic wheat when given free choice. There was a lag in preference formation during which time birds learnt to distinguish between the two food types, which is likely to explain why the present results differ from those of previous studies.”

“A further experiment confirmed that, of 16 potential causal factors, detection by birds of consistently higher levels of protein in conventional seeds (a common difference between many organic and conventional foodstuffs) is the likely mechanism behind this pattern. The results of this study suggest that the current dogma that organic food is preferred to conventional food may not always be true, which is of considerable importance for consumer perceptions of organically grown food.”

Authors: A.J. McKenzie and M.J. Whittingham
Affiliation: School of Biology, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Title: Birds select conventional over organic wheat when given free choice.
Publication: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. (2010) 90:1861-1869.

30 Years Ago, We Knew Herbicides Increased Canadian Wheat Yields

Canada ranks sixth in the world in wheat production and is the second largest exporter of wheat with 70% of its production exported annually. Since 1960, wheat yields have doubled in Canada. A group of Canadian researchers set out to identify the key factors accounting for the yield increase…

From abstract: “Therefore, we suggest that chemical weed control was the main contributing factor to the yield increases. This control has resulted not only in reduced competition from weeds, but also in better seedbed moisture because fewer cultivations are needed in the spring. “

“Because of the ability to control weeds with chemicals, it is now also possible to seed shallowly into a moist seedbed immediately after one cultivation since numerous spring cultivations with a resultant loss of valuable soil moisture are no longer necessary to eliminate germinating seeds. Fertilizer application and improved cultivars have also contributed, but to a lesser degree, to the yield increases.”

Authors: S. Freyman et al.
Affiliation: Agriculture Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Title: Yield trends on long-term dryland wheat rotations at Lethbridge.
Publication: Canadian Journal of Plant Science. (1981) 61:609-619.

Fungicides Prevent Wheat Losses in the Pacific Northwest – Organic Growers Can Only Pray

Cool, wet weather causes explosions of the stripe rust fungus in wheat fields of the Pacific Northwest. Two articles by Matthew Weaver explain how most growers applied fungicides to prevent yield loss in 2011 while organic growers could only hope that they would not be hit by the disease.

From “Researchers say vigilance against stripe rust a must”:

“Even though there’s more stripe rust in Pacific Northwest wheat fields this year, researchers say the outlook is good -— as long as farmers spray their fields and keep an eye on them.”

“…most growers in Oregon are already on their second application of fungicide and many will make a third application, which is extremely unusual.”

“In most fields, the stripe rust is under control if sprayed. Very few fields haven’t been sprayed, Chen said. Farmers who haven’t should compare the cost of spraying to the potential for yield losses if they don’t, Chen [research plant pathologist with USDA’s ARS] said. ‘It can not only cause a problem in their fields, but also to their neighbors and potentially to the whole region,’ he said, noting rust spores can be carried by the wind.”

From “Rust resistance key to organic wheat survival”:

“Organic wheat growers in the Pacific Northwest are concerned about stripe rust, an epidemic for which they have few treatment options. … Oregon State University wheat breader Mike Flowers said most organic growers were hit by the stripe rust ‘pretty hard’ but losses vary depending on the variety of wheat they grew. … Corvallis, Ore., farmer Clinton Lindsey, farm manager of A2R Farms, said one of his best red wheat fields was ‘completely devastated’ by the rust.”

“There aren’t many options available to organic producers, researchers and farmers say. ‘Pray or not pray,’ said Owen Jorgensen, a Coulee City, Wash., farmer who is on the northern edge of the stripe rust region.” 

Author: Matthew Weaver
Titles:”Researchers say vigilance against stripe rust a must” 27 May, 2011 and “Rust resistance key to organic wheat survival” 8 July, 2011
Publication: Capitol Press

Organic Wheat Growing a Threat to Food Security in India

There are a small number of organic wheat growers in India. These growers do not use herbicides to control weed populations and, as a result, organic wheat yields are 37% lower than growers who use herbicides. A recent in-country study looked at the implications for food security in India…

“The study has clearly brought out that though the organic wheat cultivation has been found much more profitable for the growers in the study area, the significant reduction in its productivity level poses a serious challenge in term[s] of food security of the nation.”

Authors: Inder Pal Singh and D.K. Grover
Affiliation: Agro Economic Research Centre, Punjab Agricultural University
Title: Economic viability of organic farming: An empirical experience of wheat cultivation in Punjab.
Publication: Agricultural Economics Research Review. 2011. 24:275-281.