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Computer program helps growers manage weeds, save money

helps growers manage weeds, save money


April 23, 2008
By Fruit & Vegetable

Topics

Weeds are one of the biggest
headaches for growers – they have to consider not only the cost of
control strategies but also a variety of crop, economic, regulatory and
environmental factors.

plantWeeds are one of the biggest headaches for growers – they have to consider not only the cost of control strategies but also a variety of crop, economic, regulatory and environmental factors.

One tool growers can use to help reduce herbicide costs is WeedSOFT®, a computer program designed to assist growers, crop consultants and Extension agents in making weed management decisions.

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On-farm research trials conducted by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers, with support from Project GREEEN (Generating Research and Extension to meet Economic and Environmental Needs), the state’s plant agriculture initiative at MSU, determined that WeedSOFT-recommended herbicide selections controlled weeds as effectively as traditional grower-selected herbicide treatments in corn with no adverse effect on yield.

“Many growers commonly use weed control guides to compare the efficacies for different products,” explains Christy Sprague, MSU Extension weed specialist. “WeedSOFT gives growers another tool to compare the effectiveness of products and the net return from different treatments. WeedSOFT looks at the bioeconomics of the different treatments by determining how weed competition affects yield in different cropping situations before and after the treatments are applied.”

Growers achieved 96 per cent or higher weed control when implementing the WeedSOFT-recommended herbicide selections in field studies, and they saved on average $6 to $15 per acre in herbicide costs. For a 100-acre field, herbicide savings could equal between $600 and $1,500. If WeedSOFT-recommended herbicide selections were implemented on one-third of Michigan’s corn acreage, savings could total $4.14 million to $10.35 million per year.

The MSU field trials were conducted on actual grower fields – on farms owned and operated by members of the Capitol Area Innovative Farmers (CAIF). CAIF is a group of mid-Michigan-area farmers who explore ways to increase the profitability of farming.

“CAIF is respected for the quality of its on-farm research projects,” says Betsy Dierberger, MSU Extension agriculture and natural resources agent. “CAIF members put WeedSOFT to the test in 2003 by comparing the WeedSOFT recommendations to their regular herbicide programs. Many field trials conducted over many counties provide a good look at how using WeedSOFT will work for farmers on a statewide basis.”

The precursor to WeedSOFT was HERB™, a computer
program used in North Carolina to estimate soybean crop losses to weeds, evaluate the return earned from using postemergence herbicides and select the optimal economic control strategy. University of Nebraska researchers adapted HERB to Nebraska field conditions, eventually expanding the program to include post- and preemergence weed control treatments for corn, sorghum, sugar beets and winter wheat. Since its release in 1996, WeedSOFT has been updated each year to reflect changes in herbicide prices and labels.

Computerized programs such as WeedSOFT offer growers the opportunity to make weed management decisions on the basis of real-time information. Using recommendations supplied by a computerized program to achieve weed control can help reduce the amount of herbicides growers need to apply to control weeds and reduce crop losses to weeds. Programs must be customized because weed species, populations and control strategies differ state by state.

Seven Midwest land-grant universities – Michigan State University, the University of Nebraska, Purdue University, Illinois State University, Kansas State University, the University of Missouri and the University of Wisconsin – came together under an umbrella research project funded by the USDA Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program (RAMP) to tailor the WeedSOFT program to state-specific conditions. State-specific versions of the WeedSOFT program became available in each of the participating states in January.

“By collaborating with other land-grant universities, we have come a long way toward expanding and improving the program,” says Jim Kells, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences. “These universities have tailored the program to fit the conditions of their specific states.”

“WeedSOFT provides Michigan growers with another option for managing weeds and shows how they can affect their bottom line,” Sprague says. “The program has an educational component – developing weed management strategies based on program recommendations helps to improve the grower’s confidence in his decision-making skills.”

WeedSOFT 2004 costs $50 and can be purchased by mail order from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln or online at www.weedsoft.unl.edu.