Harry Stephens and sons Harry, Jr., and Kimbrough in a soybean field with narrow windrow burning. “The pigweeds have gotten so bad we’re trying something new,” says Harry.
Take a drive south of Helena, Ark., and you’ll likely run across some rather odd-looking, harvested soybean fields. Appearing to be tiger- or zebra-striped, the fields are part of a new effort – narrow windrow burning — to control increasingly problematic weeds.
“Pigweeds have been a problem for us for a long a time,” says Harry Stephens. “Before Roundup Ready soybeans we were having trouble controlling them with Treflan. Then, when Roundup Ready came along that cleaned them up for a while.”
Five to seven years ago, county Extension agent Robert Goodson drove up to Stephens shop. “He came by just as a courtesy, told us he’d sprayed on the edge of one of our fields. He’d sprayed a large dose of Roundup and hadn’t killed the pigweeds and wanted to make sure we knew. The resistance problems have only gotten worse since then.”
Stephens, who farms with sons Harry, Jr., and Kimbrough, kept his eyes open for anything that might help.
Stephens, says Goodson, “has always been an early adopter. He’s not scared to try something new and this certainly fits that bill.”
Last winter, says Stephens, “we read an article in Delta Farm Press about what was going on in Australia in regards to weed control. That really piqued our interest because we were looking for something that would help us with the pigweeds.”
In that story, Australian Steve Powles, a leading expert on weed resistance, insisted harvest weed seed control will work in the United States. “Your farmers will adopt it. They won’t want to do it, but they’ll soon see the benefits of it.
What is the Australian practice Mid-South producers will most likely adopt first?
“We do use a range,” said Powles. “The simplest is, at the time of soybean harvest, all the straw and chaff is funneled into narrow windrows. Those windrows are then burned and the weed seeds are killed.”
Not long after reading the story, Stephens spoke with Jason Norsworthy, University of Arkansas weed scientist. “He told us where there was a wind-rowing setup to check out. Then, I spoke with (Crittenden County Extension agent) Russ Parker and drove up west of Marion. Russ showed me one of the setups laying in a shop floor. We took pictures and measurements and came home. Kimbrough manufactured two of them after that.”
Parker had shared the concept of narrow windrow burning in several newsletters to growers and provided pictures of the attachments. “If this works like we expect, I think growers around here will start using these windrows very quickly,” says the agent. “The weed problems here are getting worse and the control options are (becoming fewer).
“It’s cheap to outfit your combines for these windrows – maybe $200 or $300. And the manufacturing of the chutes is easy.”
Parker has been in his current position for three years. “The first year, pigweeds were everywhere. The thinking at first was, ‘our timing is off and that’s why we’re killing less pigweeds.’ Well, now it looks like we’ve had PPO-resistant pigweeds for at least three years. We didn’t recognize it.”
Back in Helena, Stephens says the two newly-outfitted combines “have been harvesting soybeans and putting out windrows. As far as that goes, it’s working fine. Will it help our pigweed situation? I sure hope so but we won’t know until later.
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“I haven’t heard a lot from our neighbors but there have been some comments. Folks are watching. Some farmers have asked if they can use our idea to make their own. Well, sure they can. But I don’t know if anyone but us is doing this anywhere close.
“We’re hoping this works well – we’re doing it on about 3,500 acres of soybeans this year. We’re growing only corn and soybeans this year.”
Happy to try
Stephens says his pigweeds “have PPO resistance on top of everything else. So, we’re being backed into a corner. We found out about the PPO resistance two years ago.”
Goodson is simply pleased to have a new control option. “We haven’t had much good news on the weed front in years. This could be the start of a new way to look at controlling them.”
Parker is of the same mindset. “Hopefully, this can help us prolong the life of weed control products that are still effective. It would be nice if Liberty were to last more than a few more years. If we can control the weed seed bank better and slow the development of resistance, that’s very exciting. This is a positive development for farming into the future. We have to do something different, change things up.”