As we head into a new growing season, Troy Basaraba, Market Development Representative at Bayer, suggests that cereal growers ask themselves these five key questions to ensure their weed management strategies are setting them up for success.

Can your seeding strategy make spraying easier?

While it is tempting to seed as much as you can in a day, this can set you up for a time crunch later in the season. Consider staggering your seeding to lower acreages per day if weather allows. Doing so means that you won’t be forced to rush through your in-crop herbicide applications, since your fields will have different maturities and will not all be hitting their spray window simultaneously.

How well do you know your product?

According to Basaraba, it is important to have a clear understanding of the product guidelines for your chosen cereal herbicide. “Know what the recommended application time is, what conditions that product performs well in, and what conditions can impact its efficacy. This way you can ensure that your chosen product is truly what is best for your needs, or if you need to look for alternatives,” says Basaraba.

Understanding label guidelines on cereal herbicides will also help avoid tank-mixing errors. Be sure to know what registered or supported tank mixes best suit your needs, and how to mix your tank correctly. Knowledge about which pesticides mix together nicely and do not cause either weed control antagonism or adverse crop response is also vital.

An example of a leaf burn as a result of incorrect tank mix practices
Incorrect tank mix practices can lead to crop damage, such as the scorched wheat pictured that was caused by a mix that heated up and damaged the crop.

What are your conditions like?

Keep an eye on your field and weather conditions heading into spray season. Factors such as crop stage, temperature, moisture, and humidity all impact product performance, and must be tracked in order to identify optimal spray timing.

“Generally all herbicides will work better when targeted on younger and smaller weeds,” says Basaraba. “This not only helps you get easier control of weeds but also supports a weed-free critical growth period for your cereal crop to setup better yield production. I think a lot of us would agree that even a poor application done at the right time on young weeds will serve you better than doing a good application when weeds are out of stage.”

It’s also vital to scout for weed spectrum differences across the farm, and to adjust practices and products in response. “One herbicide may not have the same efficacy across all acres,” he says. “Understand each field’s needs, and then adjust groups, modes of action, water volume or other control measures under your integrated pest management strategy if necessary.”

What are your product application practices?

It’s important to review the necessary water volume, nozzle and droplet size, and sprayer speed for your chosen product, in order to ensure its optimal efficacy. Basaraba generally advises falling within the 250-400 micron level for droplet size for in-crop contact and systemic herbicides (medium to coarse droplet size). “This setup, when paired with a reasonable speed and suitable water volume, can set you up for success and also potentially compensate for other imperfect factors in your application process,” says Basaraba.

Droplet size chart by water volume
Droplet size chart by water volume, ranging from fine (top L) to coarse (bottom R), with recommended droplet size ranges marked. [Credit: Tom Wolf]

Fine droplet sizes (generally below 200 microns) can provide great coverage but come with a huge risk of wind drift. On the other end, very coarse droplet sizes (generally above 400 microns) can lead to declines in product performance due to not obtaining sufficient enough coverage.

Reviewing your practices can also help in avoiding the most common herbicide application mistake: rushing the process. Rather than driving faster down a field to speed up the application, Basaraba recommends increasing sprayer capacity and/or minimizing load times. These adjustments can help to facilitate better coverage and herbicide performance and allow an operator to do a more diligent spray job.

An example of using improper water volumes
Using improper water volumes can lead to ineffective weed control, as pictured.

Do you have a contingency plan?

It’s important to have a plan – but it’s also just as vital to be prepared to react and readjust as necessary. “Prepare alternative plans in case of condition changes,” says Basaraba. “These alternatives will help act quickly and reactively if unexpected conditions send your primary plan off the trails. This way you can stay on track as best as possible, no matter what the season brings.” When building out your primary and contingency plans, reach out to your local agronomists, retails and Bayer reps for help. Your Bayer rep can help provide additional insight into the coming season, as well as advice on what products, application windows, and practices will best fit the needs of your fields.