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Will the cultivator make a comeback?

Will tillage equipment be working extra hard this spring? If so, it could be because of the tenacity of herbicide-resistant weeds, according to a new report by CAST (Council for Agricultural Science and Techn0logy.)  Palmer amaranth, waterhemp,  and mare’s tail continue to be common weeds that are offering tough resistance to popular herbicides, the CAST report noted.

The report recommends “integrated management solutions, perhaps including tillage, for the management of glyphosate-resistant weeds."

But intensifying tillage brings with it a host of issues, including cost, increased labor, machinery limitations and conservation challenges.

For example, limitations of the use of the cultivator in modern Midwest agriculture are significant. Farmers have gotten used to covering big areas in a short time with fast sprayers of up to 120 feet width. The big booms are fitted with precision controls to efficiently handle point rows and waterways.  Without the need for wheel tracks, rows widths can be chosen for optimum plant spacing and quick canopy closure.

One solution for controlling herbicide-resistant weeds, CAST authors say, is “adoption of site-specific mechanical control strategies.”

However, many farmers have sold or junked their cultivators, say farmers participating in an Crop Talk forum discussion. The equipment remaining may be the wrong row spacing or count.  Bearings may be frozen and sweeps or tines corroded.

But, the discussion shows that not all have parked their iron.  A Minnesota farmer, MVP Farms, writes, "We cultivate our sugar beets, sometimes corn, and if we row beans we cultivate the sprayer tracks."  Nebrfarmr says, "I cultivate all my corn acres.  I haven't found any weeds resistant to 'iron', but there are times when I wonder about the crop safety, especially around 3 p.m.  after going a few long days."

Iowa farmer Jim Meade may represent many other farmers, though, when he says, "I just junked out all my cultivators, but they weren't much good anyway."

If widespread cultivation becomes a necessity, a lot of new iron is going to have to be designed and marketed.  An Iowa-based implement dealer told his shop hasn’t  sold a row cultivator for many years.  Only the Amish still use them in his area.

As farmers watch the herbicide-resistant weed battle play out, equipment dealers are finding some interest in tillage equipment, such as field cultivators and disks that disrupt weed seed germination before planting.

Stan Macfarlane, Macfarlane Manufacturing, told "We're seeing some movement back to disk tillage. Some are going back from no-till. Was talking to a manufacturer of tines and he said he's seeing more sales for field cultivators. One big change is the size of the equipment,” Macfarlane, said. “There's a lot of talk of more potential severity in weed resistance because of the easy winter we've had so far."

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