A Beer Can Height: A Closer Look at Australian Harvest Weed Seed Control with Daniel Fox

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Episode Transcription:

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Drew Lyon: Hello, and welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. We have weekly discussions with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast, do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Daniel Fox, Daniel is a fifth generation farmer and the third generation currently farming their 2100 hectare, or about 5200-acre, farm near Mara, New South Wales in Australia. He farms with his granddad and grandma, Bun and Lois, his dad and mom, David and Kathy, and his wife Rach. They grow wheat, barley, chickpea, lentil, faba bean, and canola. They recently changed to a disc-seeding stripper front continuous cropping system. They started their harvest weed seed control efforts with narrow windrow burning before converting to chaff lining in 2016. Daniel recently received the Excellence in Innovation Award at the National Farmer of the Year Awards, held in Canberra in October. Hello Daniel.

Daniel Fox: G’day Drew, how you going?

Drew Lyon: I’m doing well. So for my listeners back home in the U.S., can you give us a little more background on your farming operation?

Daniel Fox: Yep, well our farming operation is most around windrow cropping summer fallow, which is traditionally the way it has been for a lot of years. As you’ve said we’re transitioning — I’m  transitioning to a disc-seeding stripper front system and incorporating a few different break crops to what we’ve traditionally done so with the, with faba beans, and lentils, chickpeas, so you know, we’re really in a transition phase at the moment that’s really based around the winter cropping summer fallow but we are trying to introduce a few summer species as well.

Drew Lyon: And so, when I was in Nebraska I did a lot of work bringing in different cropping systems from the traditional winter wheat-fallow. When they switched from conventional tillage to no-till and obviously that’s something you’ve seen too that as you cut back on the tillage, the need for crop rotation and crop diversity really increases.

Daniel Fox: Oh absolutely, when the first break crops come into an area, which was canola back in dad’s era, there’s still a lot of big productivity gains once that crop was introduced in the whole rotation so, what we’re finding now is the different cropping species like lentils, and faba beans, and chickpeas, that are coming into our system and now we’re seeing a lot of big benefits to the rotation as a whole with their introduction.

Drew Lyon: Okay, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your main weed issues and what you’re doing to address them? I think you have some of the similar issues to us, Italian ryegrass is one that’s quite problematic and I think you have something rather similar here that you’ve been dealing with or are trying to deal with.

Daniel Fox: Yep. Well our major weeds and our winter program, yeah ryegrass, bromegrass, and what we call black oats but you probably know them as wild oats. We’re finding that there’s a lot of resistance just starting to creep into our system. And what we’ve also been saying is through continual use of herbicides in the same manner of what we have in the last 30 odd years, we’re starting to see seed dormancy come into the equation now as well where they’re escaping the herbicide application and actually germinating later once, especially in canola once we can’t actually apply the herbicide in crop anymore so, yeah we’re really seeing a lot of challenges come up with in regards to weeds probably, and I’ve really our main challenge is probably in the last five or six years I suppose, have really started to rear their ugly head. Yeah, we really have to decide pretty swiftly on some different management tactics that we could use to control them.

Drew Lyon: And one reason we came, or I came to Australia, one reason we came to your farm is because you’re doing, you’re active in harvest, what we call harvest weed seed control. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about your, what you’ve been trying and what changes you’ve made to it over the years.

Daniel Fox: Yep, well we first started with a technique that was called narrow windrow burning which we collect all the residue and put it in a narrow row, no wider than sort of 50 or 60 centimeters, or less than two feet, and then we want to concentrate everything there and then burn it so that we’re actually getting a good hot burn and burning all the weed seeds and sterilizing them that way. What we learnt through the 2000’s, we had a really bad drought and we learned, really learned the value of keeping our residue and that’s partly the reason why we’ve gone to this stripper front disc-seeding system is the conservation of moisture and keeping the soils cool through our residue and we found a couple years ago the actual cost for us to do narrow windrow burning although there was no, not a lot of upfront cost, the cost that it made for the next crop through the removal of residue was quite large so we realized that we had to do something different to still do harvest weed seed control but try and maintain our residue and keep our soils covered at the same time and we stumbled across a technique called chaff lining which we just take the chaff off the back of the sieves which should contain all your weed seeds if they haven’t ended up into the box and delivered, and then concentrated them in an ultra-tight row so they’re no wider than 20 centimeters, or 20-25 centimeters, so much, and then much tighter than your narrow windrow burning but instead of burning it we just leave it there to rot so the, by composting them that way, they actually they don’t germinate and the ones that do we actually know where they are so we can actually go in with a targeted approach on a high rate of herbicide or we’re hoping in the future there might be some different technologies like micro-technology that can come along and actually you know, terminate those survivors that have germinated so.

Drew Lyon: So for those listeners in the U.S., where we haven’t converted to the metric system, 20 to 25 centimeters is going to be 9 to 12 inches — something like that.

Daniel Fox: Yeah, around there, less than a foot nearly what you want you know, there’s been some good blokes here doing some research on the density of chaff that you need in there as well to you know, to really stop any germination at all and anecdotally we’re saying that there is good rotting on the bottom side of the chaff line but you know, on the top you do certainly get a little bit of germination of those weed seed that happen but really for us, we’re concentrating I mean on a narrow row where instead of competing with your crop on the rest of the 12 meter run, they’re actually competing against themselves and become highly competitive against themselves so they’re actually forming less seeds per plant and not competing against your crop that way.

Drew Lyon: Okay, I’ve noticed one thing that seems to be fairly common here that’s not so common in Eastern Washington is tramline farming, so having all of your equipment set up on the same widths and drive on the same rows over, and over again, is that critical to this chaff lining operation?

Daniel Fox: It’s not critical but it does help. A bit of background is that we’ve got in our operation runs on a 12-meter controlled traffic system. All the implements that are going into the field are on 3 meter wheel centers or 120 inches, and then every pass of every machine is done on multiples of 12 meters so, say you’ve got a combine around 12 meters, boom sprayers on 36, but all got that common path that they travel in. In terms of harvest weed seed control for us that makes it really easy when we’re putting our chaff line back in the same position every year, as you said before, getting that multiple passes, so multiple chaff, put on the same spot and building residue in that area, building chaff residue in that area, so we’re actually making a very hostile environment for weeds to grow and propagate so it’s a bit — weeds and a crop as well don’t like growing in chaff, they want to be growing in soil so if we can get them growing in chaff, they’re very, they become very weak and then they are competing with each other as well, which takes a lot of the competition against the crop out, so.

Drew Lyon: I was there for watching some harvest a couple days ago and I was really impressed how you lay that chaff line right on top of the previous year’s chaff line, it was quite accurately done so pretty impressive. What are some of the costs associated with chaff lining? You mentioned it was a fairly cheap approach to harvest weed seed control, can you talk a little bit about what it takes to get yourself set up for chaff lining?

Daniel Fox: Yeah, well you know, chaff lining is the cheapest form of harvest weed seed control. You’ve got multiple different options, you’ve got the Rolls Royce, which is the integrated seed destructor, which is a set of mills fitted into the back of the combine, you’ve got your tramlining kit which you put your weed seeds on your actual tramlines themselves at a bit less cost than what your terminators are and then, and then yeah for us we’re chaff lining for, all it took was a bit of scrap steel and a bit of time to weld a chute up that will collect the weed seeds and the chaff off the back of the sieves in the combine and then build a vessel so that you can actually prevent those weeds from getting sucked into the chopper and spread, so we want to direct everything that’s on the chaff, on the sieves into the chute that’s actually made out of scrap steel and a bit of time and yeah, it’s very, very light cost so.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so if somebody back in Washington or the Western US wanted to get involved in harvest weed seed control, what kind of advice would you give them?

Daniel Fox: Well I think you know, the first thing is identifying that you could have issues in the future with herbicide resistance, from there, my opinion is that we need to throw the whole toolbox at our weeds and that includes non-chemical modes of action and a really critical one to maintain our herbicides into the future is to collect the weeds that get through them at harvest time. So I think first of all, deciding that you do need to make some action and the sooner the better, on harvest weed seed control but the number one thing with harvest weed seed control is you need to get them into the harvester. And that’s all to do with your harvest height so we’ve got a rule of thumb here, standard measure in Australia is a beer can height which is 15 centimeters high which is 6 inches so, we want to be harvesting our crop as low as we can to get all of the residue — all the weed seeds into the harvester so that we can deal with them. Next step is that we need to be able to get them out of the roller and onto the sieve so that we can actually deal with them. So once they’re on the sieve they’re very easy to catch with whichever form of harvest weed seed control you’ve chosen. But for us once they’re on the sieves then into the chaff line, so.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so we do have issues with the herbicide resistance, we don’t have to wait around for them, so that’s one reason I came here was to see that and I think you’ve mentioned a couple times to me, this double knock system which is rather common in Australia. I think it originally related to herbicides but you’re actually kind of giving a double knock when you give herbicides and crop and then come and kind of double knock it as, deal with it a second time at harvest time which is a period of time we’ve kind of missed historically. We’ve just, whatever was there was there and we were just going to have to spread it around but now–

Daniel Fox:  Yeah, absolutely and that’s something to say with our production system is put in place with — yeah, for as long as we’ve been harvesting crop, we’ve been harvesting weeds and we’ve been spreading them out and dealing with them the following year so, yeah it’s quite an important thing that this double knock mentality that we’re always that backing up what we’re doing with something else that’s going to help if that fails, and one thing that we know about the mother nature is that she’s always going to be one step ahead of us and things that get, plants are going to evolve and try and beat or get around anything that we do so if we apply a herbicide, there’s going to be a percentage of the population that’s going to get around that, so if we can throw as many tools in the toolbox at them and keep using the double knock principle I suppose you’d call it to keep backing up what we’re doing with every other thing that we’re doing, be that row spacing, harvest weed seed control, double herbicide knocks, rotation is an important one as well, yeah crop rotation, competitive crops, all those different tools that we’ve got, if we’re stacking them and using each one to back every other thing we’ve got, we should hopefully succeed and really drive our weed seed back down so.

Drew Lyon: Alright, well thank you very much, Daniel, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to visit with me today and to show me around and let me watch you harvest the other day, I really appreciate it.

Daniel Fox: Yeah, that’s all right, Drew.

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Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. And leave us a review while you’re there. If you have questions for us that you’d like to hear addressed on future episodes, please email me at drew.lyon@wsu.edu. You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu. You can also reach out on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat Podcast is a production of CAHNRS communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon. We’ll see you next week.

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