- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

GRIGSTON, Kan. (AP) - It had been at least a decade since Ron and Shayne Suppes pulled out the plow.

For years, the father and son who farm the High Plains of Scott and Lane counties have been strict adherents of no-till agriculture, an environmentally friendly technique that curbs erosion and conserves moisture. On the semi-arid landscape, it is a necessary practice.

That is, until this year. Hard-to-kill kochia weeds were towering in some of their crop fields. And the normal modes of action - which included glyphosate - weren’t killing it.

They could either sink money into more herbicide applications, or they could go back to the age-old traditional tool.

“We put new blades on the plow, rebuilt it, put on new tires,” said Shayne Suppes. “We ran the blades across 25 to 30 percent of our acres.”

The Suppes’ struggle to control crop-choking weeds is a battle being fought all across America’s farmland.

Fast-growing weeds like kochia - which becomes that rolling tumbleweed on the prairie - and palmer amaranth or pigweed, are defying even multiple douses of the world’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, whose primary ingredient is glyphosate.

The Hutchinson News (http://bit.ly/1P39SSu ) reports that some are mixing concoctions - some that are more toxic chemicals - to spray fields. Some are putting on multiple applications. And some, including the Suppeses, are dusting off the iron.

McPherson County farmer Monte Dossett said the pigweed became so out-of-control in one of his soybean fields this year that he hired a crew to cut it by hand.

“For a lot of farmers, no one would do anything but use Roundup,” Dossett said as he and his father, Johnnie, harvested soybeans this past October in the field he had rogued. “If you had weeds, you’d just spray Roundup.”

But this year, he said, “is by far the hardest year to control weeds that I have had since the use of Roundup.”

Battling weeds has been a continuous thorn in the side of farmers for generations. However, farmers have had a seemingly magical weapon in Roundup. It could kill the toughest weeds. And, thanks to technology, crops like Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans allowed farmers to apply glyphosate even as soybeans grew.

But after 40 years of use, Roundup is losing its power.

Widespread use of glyphosate on major crops, particularly soybeans, has contributed to the evolution of resistance to the herbicide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency released a report this year saying 14 glyphosate-resistant weeds species have been documented in the nation’s crop-production areas. As a result, more time and money are being spent on weed control, and farmers face lower yields and profits unless they change weed management practices.

The weeds, said Dossett, are tougher than the crop.

“They grow faster and will choke out the crop and just take over like a big bully,” he said. “All those weeds make more seed. That is why we are doing everything to stay on top of it.”

Herbicide-resistant weeds are nothing new in farm country. However, across the Midwest, the problem has gradually grown to something even Kansas farmers can’t ignore, said Dossett, who recalls reading about the issue in other states four or five years ago and thinking, “It can’t happen here.”

“I thought they must be doing something different,” Dossett said.

But two years ago, he noticed something amiss when his weeds didn’t seem to get the burn they normally do from herbicide applications. This year, there was no denying that glyphosate wasn’t working like it once did on palmer amaranth.

“Some fields I’d spray and think, ‘Man, did I do something wrong or what?’”

Curtis Thompson, a weed scientist with Kansas State University Research and Extension, said resistance is increasing rapidly across Kansas. Roundup-resistant palmer amaranth was first identified in Kansas in 2011. Water hemp and kochia were found in 2006 and 2007, respectively. The past few years, however, herbicide-resistant weeds have exploded in Kansas, prompting additional research and study.

“This summer we have had (weed resistance) complaints, I’m going to say, in all quadrants of Kansas,” Thompson said.

Terry Faurot, a Scott County farmer and custom applicator, is busier than past years because more farmers are applying pre-emergent herbicides to control kochia and pigweed.

The biggest thing, he said, is to not let the weeds go to seed.

“Palmer amaranth may produce as much as 100,000 to a half-million seeds per plant. These things can lie there two years before they will germinate,” Faurot said of pigweed, adding that means it will spread “all across kingdom come.”

“I think more people are aware of our herbicide-resistant weed problem and trying harder to control them,” he said. “These weeds are really a tough problem. And those two - kochia and palmer - are really a tough problem in our area. If you don’t kill them the first time, and you damage the plant, the second time is much harder to get a kill.”

In fact, he added, the Suppeses aren’t the only ones pulling out the seldom-used tillage tools.

“I’m seeing other people pull out the plow,” Faurot said. “These hard-to-kill weeds, you have to do what you can. If that means you are pulling out the undercutter, then you need to pull out the undercutter.”

That’s why the Suppeses started plowing some acres. Ron Suppes said he couldn’t justify spraying some of his acreage with the current low crop prices. So, before planting wheat this fall, he and Shayne tilled up 25 to 30 percent of the acres.

Ron Suppes said he tried to limit it to one pass, and he didn’t want to create hardpan soil.

“I see real advantages of no-till,” he said. “It was painful to do - to work that stuff when you haven’t worked it for 10 years.”

And, he said, it is disheartening because he has been using the correct rate of chemicals and different modes of action, including Dicamba and 2,4-D.

Saying that, Ron Suppes added, chemical companies need to take responsibility, too.

“I don’t think it is just glyphosate,” he said of the weed resistance issue. “Mother Nature is pretty smart when it comes to that.”

He has tried talking to companies about the problem. For instance, Monsanto has released a new Dicamba-resistant soybean seed. While beneficial for soybean farmers, it has increased the cost of Dicamba, and, on the High Plains, Ron Suppes doesn’t plant soybeans.

The farm economy no longer has $8-a-bushel wheat to offset higher input costs, he said.

Meanwhile, Dossett continues to battle the weed problem. He continues to apply a mixture of herbicides along with Roundup. But now, he’s also heading into the fields with the sprayer a month or two before planting time, putting on a pre-emergent herbicide.

If you don’t get them when they are small, he said, farmers will find themselves out in the field with a corn knife chopping weeds. He spent several days doing that this year. His rogueing crew spent three days in one particularly bad field. It cost him more than $3,000.

“There wasn’t anything I could do spray-wise. When the weeds are bigger than your soybean plant, and it is later in the year, there is nothing left to spray on it. If you kill the weeds, you are going to kill your soybeans. There is nothing left to do but pay someone to do it.”

Dossett noted aloud a thought he figured other farmers are probably thinking.

“People are starting to wonder why we are paying for the Roundup Ready trait in soybean seeds if it is not going to work,” he said, later adding, “I haven’t got there yet, because glyphosate does still work on some weeds.”

“With lower soybean prices and the increased cost in fighting weeds, I’d expect to see fewer soybeans acres. That’s kind of my guess on it.”

___

Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com

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