Effective grass control is critical to optimizing yields and test weights for Northern Plains grain production. Leading North Dakota agronomists explain their strategies and recommendation for grass control on wheat and barley acres.

"Everything we do in agriculture has consequences - some intended and some not," says Fred Eslinger, president and owner, New Horizons Ag Services, Elgin, N.D.

"Growers in my area learned that lesson again when they began putting away their moldboard plows and moving heavily into no-till production. This area is ideal for no-till because of our diverse crop rotation. Wheat, barley, corn, chickpeas, edible peas, sunflower, safflower and canola all are being grown successfully. About 80 percent of area fields are now no-till, and quite a few of the remaining fields are in some type of reduced tillage. No-till has been good to our land, and it also is helping the bottom line," says Eslinger.

Growers in good crop rotation programs are utilizing the nitrogen from their pea crops, which saves on fertilizer costs. Other growers who have been in no-till for a long time are finding they need less fertilizer, because the ground is rewarding them for being good stewards. Many growers also are now preordering their fertilizer in the fall to lock in better prices.

"One of the unintended consequences of increased no-till has been a significant increase in grass pressure. We began seeing much more pressure after we stopped tilling, and the grass spectrum also has shifted. Wild oats and foxtail (both green and yellow) have long been our most prevalent grasses, but we now are seeing more and more Japanese brome. Because many crops were not harvested during the drought of 2006, kochia got out of control and spread over a wider area. It also has become ALS-resistant," Eslinger says.

Puma herbicide has long been the leader with the foxtail and wild oat problems that Eslinger's customers fight. Most common broadleaf herbicides used in the area also mix well with the grass herbicide.

New Huskie herbicide for broadleaf weed control will be mixed with Puma for weed control this year. "This combination will take care of the grass and broadleaf needs of 90 percent of our growers, although we may need to add something like Rimfire herbicide for Japanese brome," Eslinger says.

"Growers around here are upbeat about the 2008 season, although they also are concerned about input and fuel costs going up. They are concerned about the amount of money it will take to get their crops in the ground and harvested, but everything should be fine as long as commodity prices hold," Eslinger says.

Herbicides Must Fit Growers' Farming

The bottom line for grass control herbicides, as it is for any input recommendation, is performance. A herbicide must do exactly what it is supposed to do, across a range of environmental conditions, says Joe Kremer, agronomy division manager, SunPrairie Grain, Bowbells, N.D.

Consistent performance is only the starting point. "Growers here in North Dakota also look for herbicides that fit the way they farm and that address specific grass problems in their fields. In particular, growers in my area want a herbicide that takes care of the increased grass pressure in no-till production, without painting themselves into a corner in their rotation programs," Kremer says.

"Growers are quickly switching from conventional tillage to no-till in the four counties I serve. In fact, no-till has increased from about 20 percent of the acres just two years ago to about 80 percent today. I look for that percentage to go even higher as more growers invest last season's profits in no-till equipment."

Any new herbicides coming to market need to work well in no-till production. Inputs also need to fit area crop-rotation patterns-wheat, durum, barley, sunflower, canola and peas- without risk of carryover. Herbicides need to be flexible enough to allow growers to base cropping decisions on agronomics and market prices, not carryover risks, Kremer adds.

More and more weed and grass species are becoming resistant to some herbicides, and reduced control also means reduced profitability. "As an agronomist, I look for manufacturers who support us with new products that will allow us to farm the way we know best," says Kremer.

"I expect Huskie herbicide to be our top selling broadleaf herbicide in the next couple of years. It fits well in our rotation with peas, where other herbicides won't, and it will control ALS-resistant kochia. A combination of Puma and Huskie together should be our primary tankmix recommendation. That will control most of our major weeds, although we may need to go with a stronger rate on Huskie for Canada thistle," Kremer says.

Consultant Sees More Success Ahead

It is important for growers to stick to what they do best in the six counties around Enderlin, N.D., growing wheat, soybeans, canola, sugar beets and peas in rotation, says Travis Messer, crop consultant, Plains Grain and Agronomy.

"Growers in this area are getting away from conventional tillage. Although we see some no-till, our heavy soils are better suited to minimum till, and they also warm up faster in the spring than they would under no-till. The goal is to make as few passes over the field as possible to reduce equipment and fuel costs," says Messer.

Input costs are on everyone's mind this spring. Fertilizer prices are the biggest concern, with prices up a minimum of 50 percent over last year. His clients are nervous about input costs staying high and markets slumping. But right now, the return on investment is huge for growers, he notes.

Grass control is an important part of profitable wheat production. "Our major grass problems are wild oats, foxtail and barnyardgrass, along with some downy and Japanese brome in no-till. Custom harvesters have brought in some new species of winter annual grasses, and we also are seeing ALS-resistant kochia," Messer says.

Messer has seen excellent results with trials of Huskie herbicide. "The thing that excites me most is having a new mode of action to manage resistance, which we haven't had for years. A tank mix of Puma, Huskie and Stratego fungicide will take care of all our weed and disease problems," Messer says.