John Phipps: The War on Midwest's Biggest Crop Enemy

John's World 11/23/19
Waterhemp is an aggressive and often resistant weed, and John Phipps explains why it could be turning into one of the biggest enemy for Midwestern farmers. ( Sonja Begemann )

Now that we have finished harvest, we’re digesting all the other aspects of production we noticed besides yield. Like weed control, for example. While we were happy with our recipes and application strategies, there were some notable escapes. Aaron noted these on the combine for planning next year. In this area, weed escapes were not uncommon, and the number one culprit was waterhemp.

If you are not following Bob Hartzler from ISU on Twitter or reading his blog posts, I strongly recommend you do so. Recently he summed up some of the current thinking about combatting this formidable invader. The whole article is must-read for Midwest growers, but what raised my pulse was this rather bland statement about how waterhemp become Crop Enemy number one.

“Layby cultivation is an excellent control strategy for late-emerging weeds such as waterhemp. The reduction in tillage, both pre- and post-plant, created a better environment for waterhemp than existed previously, and likely contributed to an increase in waterhemp populations.” For those of you of tender years, the term “layby cultivation” refers to the last of two or even three or more mechanical between row passes with a row cultivator. Before modern herbicides, it was a task that consumed most of the first half of summer and scarred young operators like yours truly for life. Today the term “cultivator neck” has little meaning, but it hurts me just to hear it now.

Most farmers I talk with are very skeptical about ever returning to mechanical weed control, but we’re discovering more weeds like waterhemp that develop herbicide resistance with increasing speed. None that I know of have ever developed a steel immunity, however. One key to watch will be new precision tracking multi-folding row cultivators on display at farm shows. The other indicator is to watch what Missouri farmers do – they are ground zero in the waterhemp war. I hope I’m wrong, but we could be about to lose a few weeks of summer vacation.