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Herbicide-resistant weeds, farmer blogs, and more

Here are some questions — with answers — that popped up at Bayer CropScience’s Ag Issues forum prior to this week’s Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas.

  • What’s keeping large farmers up at night? Labor shortages, for one, says David Hollinrake, vice president of agricultural commercial operations marketing for Bayer Crop Science. Hollinrake told about a group of large farmers he recently met with who have difficulty finding qualified employees.

  • So why aren’t you seeing that next new (new, not just a premix of existing compounds) herbicide mode of action? After all, no new herbicide mode of action for corn and soybeans has been commercialized since HPPD inhibitors in the late 1990s.

    Well, money’s part of it. “When I started in the business, it took about 10 years and $50 million to bring a product to commercialization,” says Hollinrake. “Now it takes 10 years and $250 million.” Bayer is searching, but as of now, no new herbicide mode of action in row crops is coming in the near future.

  • So how do you control herbicide-resistant weeds? Not by applying glyphosate on Roundup Ready soybeans followed by glyphosate applications on Roundup Ready corn. Instead, it will take multiple modes of action, says Hollinrake. Toward the end of this decade, you’ll see three- to four-way stacks of herbicide tolerance, he says.

  • So how do you deal with shortages of irrigation water? That was the situation facing Gary Beck, who manages Hillside Ranch in Blaine County, Idaho. Aquifers there were starting to run short of water, and wells were going deeper to reach the water that did exist.

    “We needed to change,” he says. The ranch worked with the Nature Conservancy and MillerCoors (for whom the ranch grows malting barley) to better use the irrigation water the ranch did pump. A $250,000 investment in steps like new sprinkler packages and new GPS panels on pivots has cut water use without sacrificing agronomic performance. Pivots can speed up or slow down, depending on water needs of the crop. 

    The ranch also removed end guns from center pivots and planted native grass in corners to save water.

  • Are you confused about how to analyze data taken on your fields? You aren’t alone. Mitch Baalman, who heads the FDK Partnership farm near Hoxie, Kansas, says his family’s farm had reams of cards filled with data, but didn’t have time to analyze it.

    “We’ve had to outsource this,” he says. By outsourcing it to firms that can analyze yield data and other components, the farm can use it to better agronomic performance.

  • Tired of activists framing the conversation about tools you use like genetically modified crops? Start your own blog! That’s what Brian Scott, an Indiana farmer did. He writes a blog called “The Farmer’s Life” that addresses topics ranging from transgenic technology to precision agriculture with a bent toward educating nonfarmers.

“I’ve always been on a farm, so it’s hard to get in the head of what people with no farm experience are thinking,” he says. Still, the effort to educate nonfarm residents about farming is critical, he says.

Emily Webel also started a blog called “Confessions of a Farm Wife” that details aspects of her family’s farm near Farmington, Illinois. She’s also active in Illinois Farm Families, which meets with urban consumers to answer questions, quell fears, and boost relationships.

“I was an English teacher at home with three (now four) kids and didn’t see a voice like mine (in the blogosphere),” she says. That was 2010. Now 4,000 loyal blog readers later, she’s getting out the word on the positive points about agriculture and farm life. She encourages more in agriculture to do the same.

“The majority of information online is not in favor of ag,” she says. The good news is a majority of people are open and willing to learn more about agriculture, she adds.

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