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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: An Ecological Approach to Strengthen Weed Management in the Semiarid Great Plains

Author
item ANDERSON, RANDAL

Submitted to: Advances in Agronomy
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: December 15, 2002
Publication Date: October 1, 2003
Citation: ANDERSON, R.L. AN ECOLOGICAL APPROACH TO STRENGTHEN WEED MANAGEMENT IN THE SEMIARID GREAT PLAINS. ADVANCES IN AGRONOMY. VOL. 80: 33-62. 2003.

Interpretive Summary: For the last 50 years, winter wheat-fallow has been the prevalent cropping system in the Central Great Plains. However, because of no-till practices, producers are diversifying their rotations to include alternative crops such as corn or sunflower with winter wheat. Yet, herbicide-resistant weeds and low profit margins make it difficult to control weeds effectively. One alternative for producers is to design rotations that accentuate the natural decline of weed seed density in soil. A second aspect is to help the crop compete more effectively with weeds; cultural practices can improve a crop's competitiveness. This approach, referred to as ecologically-based weed management, can help producers control weeds without relying so extensively on herbicides. Both winter and summer annual crops are grown in the Great Plains, which can help manage weeds because growth periods differ considerably between crop types. Designing rotations to include two winter annual crops followed by two summer annual crops can reduce weed community density 12-fold compared to less diverse rotations. With some crops, such as proso millet, the ecological-based approach is so effective that herbicides are not needed for in-crop weed control. Furthermore, diverse rotations enable producers to accrue ancillary benefits such as increased yields and economic returns as well as improved resource-use-efficiency.

Technical Abstract: Cropping systems in the semiarid Great Plains are rapidly changing. Previously, winter wheat-fallow was the prevalent system; now, because of no-till practices, producers are diversifying their rotations to include alternative crops. Yet, weed management is often ineffective because of herbicide-resistant weeds and low profit margins. A possible solution is ecologically-based weed management, where cropping systems are designed to lower weed community densities and improve crop competitiveness to weeds. Both winter and summer annual crops are grown in the Great Plains, which can help manage weeds because growth periods differ considerably between crop types. Designing rotations to include two winter/spring crops followed by two summer annual crops can reduce weed community density 12-fold compared to less diverse rotations. This rotation design favors natural weed seed decline in soil yet avoids proliferation of weed densities in crops with similar life cycles. However, tillage minimizes the effect of rotation design on weed community. A second component of the ecological approach is to strengthen crop competitiveness with cultural practices. Combining these practices together improved crop competitiveness three- to five-fold. With some crops, such as proso millet, cultural systems are so effective that herbicides may not be needed for in-crop weed control. Designing rotations based on a cycle-of-four with winter and summer annual crops also accrues ancillary benefits such as increased yields and economic returns as well as improved resource-use-efficiency. Furthermore, the ecologically-based approach will enable producers to ameliorate the negative impacts of herbicide-resistant weeds and rising input costs.

Last Modified: 8/19/2014
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