Price outlook will drive weed control strategy
Savings of €15-€35 per hectare can be achieved with the right weed control strategy
Farmers are by their nature optimistic and look forward to what the next growing season can bring.
There are huge swings from one year to the next in terms of weather and price which dramatically affects the outcome of the years hard work.
Record yields in 2015 were matched with low grain prices resulting in disappointing financial returns. Optimism for 2016 has been replaced by realism on the prices' outlook and this should inform decisions made this year.
Weed control is generally quite straightforward most years but there is always a temptation to throw everything at the job "just to make sure".
Herbicides are not the biggest growing costs but they can play their part in reducing overall costs.
Savings of €15-35 per hectare are possible with a well timed weed control strategy versus an ad-hoc approach.
Formulating a budget for herbicides can be achieved quite easily with some basic knowledge of the weed spectrum in each field.
This article will cover areas where savings can be made while still achieving good weed control.
Areas to target to reduce costs are outlined here. With reasonable care and attention to weed type and size savings of at least €10/ha are achievable on most farms.
Use cultural control to help control weeds.
For instance oats do not require the same level of weed control as other cereals as oats are competitive and actively suppress weeds through their allelopathic mechanisms. There are potential savings of €5-10/ha.
Know the weed spectrum Be prepared to change herbicides to target specific weeds where necessary.
Blanket application of herbicides over the entire field where the main target is a patch/population of weeds in less than a third of the field is costly. Spot treat problematic weeds with specific herbicides. There are potential savings of €15-20/ha.
Where this spot treatment is targeted at resistance weeds the potential cost savings over time are cumulative as this targeting will kill the weed, reducing the populations in the field, preventing seeding and further spread for future years.
Know the limitations of the herbicide
Don't use a herbicide which is known to have a poor effect on the weed. Potential saving €20-50/ha if the herbicide choice is incorrect.
Use the weed size to your advantage
Control weeds early in spring cereals or when the weeds are small. Early weed control can reduce herbicide quantities by up to half.
Potential savings here are between €15-25/ha.
Where land is coming from long term leys weed numbers and populations are generally reduced compared to long term tillage. In this situation using hormone based herbicide can be sufficient. Potential savings €10-25/ha.
Calibration and nozzles
Make sure the sprayer is properly calibrated and all the nozzles are working correctly. Poor control often comes from poor application. Potential savings €5-40/ha, if reapplication is avoided.
Use lower water rates combined with low drift nozzles
Reducing water volumes from 200l/ha to 100l/ha is possible with almost all herbicides.
This will not save money on the volumes of herbicides purchased but will increase efficiency of spraying by increasing the area covered by each tank load.
Potential saving is harder to work out as it very much depends on the size of the farm and other jobs to be carried out but it is more significant where the land base is fragmented
Forward plan all ag-chems inputs
It is more than possible to pre-purchase 80pc-90pc of all ag-chems at the start of the year.
However correct selection comes from knowing the weeds spectrum in your fields.
Getting the best control often requires application when the conditions are ideal so having all the chemicals ready to go when you want them rather than having to purchase on spec is important.
Bulk purchase will often result in a better price as it allows comparisons with multiple suppliers. There are potential savings of €10-50/ha.
Michael Hennessy is head of crops knowledge transfer at Teagasc, Oak Park, Co Carlow
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