Damp weather puts Roundup Ready crops to test
Growers say conventional beets would not have fared well this year
By DAVE WILKINS
Many sugar beet growers rejoiced when the USDA granted special permission for them to plant Roundup Ready varieties again this year.
They are especially grateful now, given the way the growing season has started.
Cool, wet weather has kept growers from getting into the fields as soon or as often as they would like, giving weeds a big head start.
Jeff Henry of Jerome, Idaho, was applying Roundup herbicide to his beets for the first time on May 25.
"Had they been conventional beets, I would have already lost them to weeds," he said. "I wouldn't have had a chance."
Henry, who is also president of the Idaho Sugarbeet Growers Association, still hopes to get a decent beet crop this year with one or two applications of Roundup.
Conventional beet varieties required three to five herbicide applications. Those herbicides were not only less effective than Roundup, but they often injured the plants and slowed their growth.
"It would take some recovery time for the plants to start growing again. About the time they started growing, we would have to hit them again (with more herbicide)," said Dave Scantlin, a fieldman for The Amalgamated Sugar Co. in the Twin Falls district.
The risk of plant injury was especially great whenever the plants were stressed, as they have been this year by light frosts that have occurred well into late May.
Koshia weeds had to be sprayed when they were no larger than a dime under the conventional system, Scantlin said.
"If they got to be quarter sized, you were in trouble and were going to see yield loss because of it," he said.
Under the Roundup system, growers aren't under as much pressure to spray fields when the weeds are still very small.
The system has really demonstrated its value the past couple of growing seasons, which have started off cool and wet, said Stacey Camp, agriculture manager for Amalgamated's Mini-Cassia district.
"The last few years we've been grateful that we have had Roundup Ready because the weather has been like this," he said.
But if growers wait too long to apply herbicide they'll begin to lose yield, even under the Roundup Ready system, Camp said.
"We are getting a little bit behind on spraying Roundup," he said. "I think the biggest concern we have now is that the weeds don't overtake the beets."
Roundup Ready varieties offer similar weed control advantages for alfalfa and corn, said Glenn Shewmaker, a University of Idaho forage specialist.
"In alfalfa, during an establishment year, it could really make a difference," he said.
But Shewmaker cautions growers against becoming too dependent on Roundup Ready technology.
Repeated use of Roundup herbicide can increases the risk of weed resistance and other pest and disease problems, especially if little or no crop rotation is used, he said.
"Technology is not a substitute for good cultural management," Shewmaker said.