Things have been intense in the office the past two weeks as Hubby and his crop consultant have worked diligently on weed control “recipes” for his 2019 corn and soybean fields.
Call them herbicide cocktails, insecticide bombs or whatever, the bottom line is in this day and age of herbicide resistant weeds and insects that adapt to constantly changing conditions, crafting just the right chemical mix means all farmers must be part scientist.
We are blessed to have a university that conducts regular crop management workshops and each year those who attend the chemigation, pesticide applicator and Dicamba training courses receive a “recipe book” outlining the various herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, and how to best use them to achieve the desired results on various crops.
Much like baking a cake, farmers need to have the proper ingredients and also need to know how they react with each other. For example, if I’m making a buttermilk cake, I’d best have some baking soda to get the proper rise and volume in the cake batter. But in other cake mixes baking powder is the preferred leavening agent, and yes, I took “kiddy chem” to understand why there is a difference.
When Hubby is seeking the proper prescription to burn down weeds before planting, he first must know which crop he is going to grow and then which weeds he is trying to kill or prevent from sprouting. Then he looks at a mix of burn-down chemicals to kill existing weeds and a pre-emergent chemical to prevent weeds from sprouting.
Then they need to plan a post-emergent recipe in case they need to kill any weeds that escaped the pre-plant treatment. To accomplish this he uses a variety of different herbicide groups. Each group has a different mode of action, much like my leavening agents. For example, glyphosate (Roundup is the common name) is a Group 9.
This is important to know because certain herbicides don’t play nicely with other herbicides in a tank mix. Sometimes they may curdle when mixed together or they negate each other, rendering the mix useless. There is a safety factor involved as well with putting on the appropriate herbicides, which is why those training sessions are so important.
Stepping up the complexity, say going from a cake mix to making an angel food cake from scratch, you must also be careful when mixing herbicides with fertilizers. For example, atrazine does not mix with 10-34-0 fertilizer, which is shorthand for ammonium phosphate.
If they are accidentally put together you have a clumpy mix. Again, basic chemistry plays a part and is a plus in the tool bag.
Another key ingredient in these mixes are adjuvants, which help the herbicide’s activity. This can turn into a veritable alphabet soup that includes everything from ammonium sulfate fertilizer (AMS), crop oil concentrate (COC), methylated seed oil (MSO) or non-ionic surfactants (NIS), and drift reduction agents (DRAs) In short, you MUST read all the labels.
Hubby typically uses a mix of four to five chemicals and must come up with a “recipe” so he can mix various sizes of tankloads easily. If you think farmers don’t need math, think again.
This is why many producers don’t do their own spraying. The complexity of it all can drive one up the wall. At our house at least, Hubby views this as a challenge. If I was alone, I’d fall in the category of those who hire the job done.
Finally, because these chemicals are so expensive, rest assured they are applied wisely and in as small amounts as possible. Hubby estimates his per acre chemical costs will average $45 an acre. With commodity prices dipping below cost of production, you can be sure we won’t use them unless needed.
So the next time you see a sprayer in the field during planting and growing season, pause to admire the science that goes into mixing those solutions. The time and expense involved means everything has been carefully thought out and the utmost safety has gone into preparing those mixes and in keeping them safe for the environment.
Freelance journalist Barb Bierman Batie grew up near Battle Creek, Neb., and now farms row crops with her Platte Valley Farmer, Don Batie, northeast of Lexington. She has written for local, state, regional and international publications and joined the Midwest Messenger crew in 2010. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.