Going to war with Palmer amaranth — for $70 an acre

In 2015, Willard Jack was gearing up to tackle herbicide resistant Canada fleabane on his Belzoni, Mississippi farm. Five years later, that weed is just an afterthought as Jack is fully engaged in a fight with a much tougher resistant weed “monster” — Palmer amaranth.

At the SouthWest Agricultural Conference (SWAC) last week at Ridgetown, Ont., the Chatham native shared the story of how he headed south to Mississippi 40 years ago looking for a farming opportunity. He and his family now farm 12,000 acres of cotton, soybeans, rice and corn at their Silent Shade Planting Company. He also described the ongoing battle he wages with Palmer amaranth, the pigweed family member that’s quickly become the toughest-to-control weed in the U.S.

In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Jack discusses his efforts to control the pest. His regimen includes a pre-emerge herbicide application, followed by a timely post-emerge spray. A pre-harvest desiccation helps control late-emerging seed and is followed by a late-season tillage pass. Jack pegs the cost of control at north of US$70 per acre. (Story continues after the interview.)

The weed can grow two to three inches per day in optimum conditions. It can reach six to eight feet tall and reduce yield up to 91 percent in corn and 79 percent in soybeans. With its rapid growth, Jack maintains what he calls a “three-day rule” to stay ahead of the weed. Basically he needs enough spraying equipment and people power to cover the farm in a three-day period to maintain control.

Jack also shares how multiple modes of herbicide action and rotating herbicides play a key role in his control program. Despite the headaches, the farmer believes there is an economic return. He’s a big believer in the work done by University of Guelph weed scientist Clarence Swanton to identify the critical weed-free period in crop such as corn and soybeans.

Jack believes controlling weeds at emergence, including palmer amaranth, can increase his soybean yield by 10 bushels per acre. It’s a lot of work, he says, but it pays.

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