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Dance of the inter-row hoes – CPM – Dick Neale

With the future of glyphosate unknown, mechanical weeding options are enjoying a surge in interest. ...

The future of glyphosate is one that hangs on tenterhooks at the moment, with constant debate over whether or not growers will continue to have access to the crop protection product-and if they will, for how long.

With this in mind, there’s been a noticeable increase in mechanical weeding options coming onto the market over the recent years-including launches from manufacturers whose comfort zone wouldn’t usually be found in this type of kit.

However, in anticipation of the changes that could lie ahead, there’s some careful considerations that ought to be made – particularly with regards to how machinery could replace glyphosate, says Dick Neale, technical manager at Hutchinsons.

“It will be pretty serious across the board if we lose glyphosate, and no doubt, more cultivations will be involved. However, that doesn’t mean it would just be a case of getting the plough out.

“That would probably result in soil full of weeds six weeks later which would need knocking out again prior to drilling.

Knock out weeds

“Undoubtedly, it’s easier to knock out these weeds in a min-till or no-till system, but how this is structured will make all the difference when it comes to using mechanical weed control.”

While inter-row hoes provide a physical kill, and can be very effective, Dick believes the biggest issue for growers adopting this approach will be row width. “In order to use an inter-row hoe effectively, you’ve got to have wider rows, which means less competition for weeds earlier on.”

Another challenge to overcome will be the fact that that inter-row kit doesn’t react with in-row weeds, he adds. “This includes weeds that are causing some of the biggest problems, such as blackgrass. The issue is that even if you’re able to remove some of the competition, the plants left produce more seeds which in turn just exacerbates the issue.

“So at the moment, for something like blackgrass, I don’t see mechanical control as an ultimately-viable, long-term solution.”

For broadleaf weeds, however, there should be less of an issue as there are still a wide range of chemical options available, adds Dick.

Going forward, the transition from chemical to mechanical weeding can be made smoother by taking on board lessons from the organic sector. “What traditional systems can learn from organic growers is the importance of getting technique right and selecting the right bit of kit for the job. But it’s important to keep in mind that machinery alone won’t replace glyphosate, and herbicides will have to be used in tandem,” he notes.

When it comes to investing in kit, it’s important to do your research thoroughly, explains Dick. “Go with manufacturers who have put thought and consideration into the geometry of the tine. This is incredibly important because if the tine drags, rather than cutting weeds off, it can encourage them to grow more severely.”

With more hoes likely to come onto the market over the coming years as a result of the increased pressure on glyphosate, the advice from Dick is to go with a manufacturer that has long-standing experience and understanding of this type of kit. “I’d advise growers to be really critical about the design of the hoe and the experience of the people – or firm – that have created it.”

But before you even consider splashing the cash on a shiny new hoe, significant changes to your current farming system may be required, he warns. “It’s not just as simple as going out and buying a new hoe. If you’re running row widths of 16-18cms this won’t allow enough flexibility to get the hoe down.

“If you’re already operating with a wide drill, then of course, this transition might be easier. But, if not, it can be a huge investment, so it’s important to think carefully and wisely about the implications and whether or not you’re structured correctly before you invest.”

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