CropWatch April 9, 2010: Practical and Economic Impacts of Not Controlling Winter Annuals

CropWatch April 9, 2010: Practical and Economic Impacts of Not Controlling Winter Annuals

April 9, 2010

With 2009’s late harvest, abundant winter annual weed populations are expected in Nebraska no-till corn and soybean fields.

Factors Leading to More Winter Annuals

Due to changes in our management systems, winter annual weed populations have become an issue of increasing importance in Nebraska row crop production. As agricultural management practices change, pest pressures also change. Modern crop production is an artificial system conducted in a natural environment. The natural environment looks to exploit niches in any imposed system. When crop management strategies change, such as adoption of no-till, new niches are exposed. The natural system exploits the new niche(s), and new management challenges are introduced.

Chart showing the steady increase in the use of no-till in Nebraska.
Figure 1. No-till adoption in Nebraska since 1990. (Data source: Conservation Technology Information Center)

Weed management specialists have identified the following factors in the increased prevalence of winter annuals in corn and soybean fields.

  • An increase in total postemergence herbicide programs for row crops. Many producers are using earlier planting dates to seek maximum yields, and feel that preemergence herbicide applications are not the most effective use of their time and resources. Many highly effective postemergence products were introduced to the market place in the 80s and 90s and have made total post-applied herbicide programs desirable.
  • A decrease in the use of herbicides with residual properties. With increased use of glyphosate- and glufosinate-tolerant crops, the use of herbicides with residual properties has decreased. While winter annuals were not the likely application target of the residual products, it is reasonable to assume that their populations also were reduced.
  • Milder winters with more open falls and springs are expanding the environment where winter annual weeds thrive.
Impact on Crop Resources and Inputs

Increases in crop production input costs necessitate the efficient use of water, fertilizers, and pesticides to maintain producer profitability. If winter annual weeds are not controlled, they can consume water and nitrogen intended for crops.

Nitrogen. To estimate potential nitrogen immobilization by winter annual weeds, we might use the following assumptions:

  • 500 lb/ac of winter annual biomass growth at planting time (this would be a relatively dense, uniform stand of weeds)
  • As a general statement, nitrogen composes approximately 3% of plant biomass
  • $0.32/lb of nitrogen fertilizer

Based on these assumptions, a dense, uniform stand of winter annuals could tie up approximately 15 lb of nitrogen per acre (500 x 0.03), or $4.80 per acre (15 x 0.32) of nitrogen intended for a corn crop.

Soil Moisture. Conserving soil moisture is critical to profitability and yield potential in water limited environments. Similar calculations can be done to assign an economic penalty to water use by winter annual weeds. To estimate the irrigation cost to replace water used by the same 500 lbs/A of winter annual biomass, we will use the following assumptions:

  • 500 lb/ac of winter annual weed biomass at planting time
  • 800 lb of water is required to produce 1 lb of winter annual weed biomass
  • At $2.50 diesel fuel, applying 1 inch of irrigation water per acre would cost $9.66

The 500 lb of winter annual biomass would use 400,000 lb of water per acre (500 x 800), or 47,920 gallons of water (400,000 lb x 0.1198 gal/lb). This equals 1.75 acre-inches of soil water (47,920 gal /{27,158 gal/acre-inch}) used by these weeds. Based on a cost of $9.66 to apply 1 inch of irrigation water, it would cost approximately $17.00 per acre to replenish the water used by winter annual weeds in this scenario.

It is important to realize that these are dynamic relationships. As input and production costs change, so will these estimates; however, they do illustrate the potential costs of allowing winter annual weeds to grow in a water-limited environment and provide a decent justification for the cost to control these weeds.

Other Issues

Insect and Nematode Hosts. Winter annuals have been documented as alternative hosts for a number of insect and nematode pests of corn and soybeans. Purdue University has found that soybean cyst nematodes can survive on a number of winter annual species, including common chickweed, henbit, and shepherdspurse. (For detailed information on this, see Winter annuals also provide a favorable environment for a number of corn insect pests, including cutworms, which feed on newly emerging plants.

Planting Problems. Proper planting depth and uniformity is important. Planting into dense stands of winter annual weeds may cause problems with uniform seeding depth and improper seed furrow closure. Also, dense winter annual stands can keep soils cool and wet, leading to less uniformity in crop emergence and development.

Lowell Sandell, Mark Bernards and Stevan Knezevic
Extension Weeds Specialists


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