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3 crops themes from 2021

Looking back on the top agronomy issues of 2021, here’s a summary of the themes that stand out.

1. Hard Time for Herbicides

Herbicides have been and will continue to be the backbone of weed control in crop production. They’ve stumbled, though, in recent years due to herbicide-resistant weeds.

Weeds that resist herbicides have been around seemingly as long as herbicides. 

Resistance isn’t new. For example, velvetleaf first resisted atrazine — commercialized in 1958 — in a Maryland cornfield in 1984.

However, widely adopted herbicide-tolerant crops have had the unintended consequence of hastening the development of herbicide-resistant weeds. My predecessor, Mike Holmberg, reported on glyphosate-resistant marestail that University of Delaware weed scientists confirmed in 2000, just four years after Monsanto (now part of Bayer) launched glyphosate-tolerant (Roundup Ready) soybeans in 1996.

Years later, waterhemp that resisted dicamba was confirmed this year in Illinois and Tennessee — four years after federal regulators approved dicamba formulations applied to dicamba-resistant soybeans. 

Developments like these prompted a three-part series in the October, November, and December issues of Successful Farming magazine under the banner of “Hard Times for Herbicides.” The series defined problems with herbicides and also profiled a move toward seedbank management. This strategy consists of using such tools as:

  • Chopping machinery that prevent weeds from going to seed.
  • Flaming weeds to nix seed development.
  • Electrocuting weeds to stop seeds from depositing into the soil.
  • Harvest Weed Seed Control techniques first pioneered in Australia.
  • Cover crops that smother weeds and prevent them from forming seed.
  • Narrow rows that shade weeds with a benefit of eliminating seed production.

Herbicides are by no means dead. In fact, this series profiled companies such as Enko that are using new ways to develop herbicides for farmers. 

Still, herbicides need help. This is a strategy that all parties agree on and will develop in the future, whether they be from industry, universities, or other entities.

2. Carbon Markets

Corn and soybeans rule the Midwest when it comes to crop production. There’s good reason for that. They’re the most profitable crops to grow, and they have the infrastructure that supports them. 

Still, maladies like disease and weeds are laying siege to these crops. That’s why there’s always been a push toward that elusive “third crop” that would help slay these stressors and diversity income. 

The answer may be below the feet of farmers.

Granted, growing carbon may not nix those alligators that annually come after corn and soybeans. However, payments farmers receive for sequestering and preventing formation of greenhouse gases that include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide can help them diversify income. Although some farmers may not believe in greenhouse gasses that fuel climate change, they believe in money.

That was the premise for “Pay Dirt,” a story that ran in the January 2021 issue of Successful Farming. Subsequent stories included one in the May 2021 issue that evaluated carbon measurement and one in the June 2021 issue that discussed carbon market certification. A Mid-November 2021 story included information on how farmers could size up carbon markets for their farms.

This coverage also launched a Carbon Market series in the August and November issues of Successful Farming that covered soil health practices that could fuel carbon market payments. These includes tools such as cover crops and farms that include such tools on a whole-farm basis.

Carbon markets are here to stay and will continue to be covered in Successful Farming and on 

3. Seeds

Myriad technologies have been used by farmers in recent decades, including chemicals, precision agriculture, and modern machinery.

Yet, all revolve around one input — seed — that has been around since biblical times. Granted, the seed farmers planted during the time of Jesus is eons away from the modern varieties now planted. Yet, farmers of those days wondered the same things that farmers worry about regarding their seed today. Will it germinate? Will it emerge? How will it perform under too much and too little rain? And finally, is it worth the money I am paying?  

With this in mind, seed formed the impetus for the July 2021 issue of Successful Farming. It included stories by Gil Gullickson, Bill Spiegel, and Natalina Sents Bausch on:

Seed selection has been and will continue to be a focal point of Successful Farming coverage in 2022 and beyond. 

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