Reasons to be optimistic in the battle against herbicide resistance

The fight against herbicide resistant weeds often feels like a losing battle. The list of resistant weed species grows every year, while the number of new and simple herbicide options for controlling weeds is a long way from keeping up.

But there are reasons to be optimistic, especially when you look at testing and technology beyond our traditional on-farm tools for weed control, says Francois Tardif, weed scientist specializing in herbicide resistance at the University of Guelph.

“There’s no magic solution,” he says in the video below, “But I’m thinking there’s enough imagination, and resources out there, and new people coming into agriculture every year that look at it from a different angle.”

So what will weed control look like in the future?

Tardif says he foresees a convergence of different technologies playing a role, including genomics — the ability to sequence a weed’s genetic make-up rapidly and precisely, and to identify types of resistance very quickly.

“We’ll link that genomic testing with information flow that is fast with all the communication tools we have now, and then different types of sensors. We’ll have guided sprayers, robots in fields which will be able to take that information from early sampling and identify where different resistance is, and then adjust herbicide spraying or different methods to control those weeds and reduce selection pressure,” he says.

Just 20 years ago, he says he remembers weed scientists talking about needing higher-resolution images for site-specific weed control.

“What we needed at the time was a camera with 3 megapixels, and the engineer we were talking to threw his hands in the air saying that doesn’t exist, and now we probably have 10 times that on our phone…so things happen very rapidly,” he notes.

Listen/watch our conversation with Francois Tardif, discussing the basic biological principles of herbicide resistance and how new tools might aid farmers in the quest to keep resistant weeds at bay:

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