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Persistence is key to weed control

Jay Jenkins for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 February 2017
Spraying the pasture

Persistence is the key to a successful long-term pasture weed control program. Land managers are constantly seeking a magic bullet weed control strategy that will allow them to check weed control off the to-do list and never think about it again.

Whether it’s a herbicide application or a biological control release, the desire is to get it done and move on. Unfortunately it’s not that simple.

Successful weed management is a mindset, not merely a task to be done. Managers intuitively recognize there is no silver bullet; however, when weed control is treated as a task, it’s easy to consider weed control as finished.

A successful weed control program is a never-ending circle of surveillance, discovery, action and more surveillance. I knew a rancher that was able to keep his ranch free of Dalmatian toadflax when thousands of acres surrounding his land were a sea of yellow.

His success was as a result of persistence. He declared war on Dalmatian toadflax. Every time he saw a plant, he got out of his pickup or off his horse and pulled it. Not only that, but every year when the plants were beginning to bloom, he would systematically survey his ranch, looking for toadflax.

He would start on the riverbanks and ditch banks, then the roadsides and fencelines, methodically pulling every plant he found.

Not everyone has the misfortune of being in the center of a major noxious weed infestation, but anyone can put those same principles to work at your ranch.

Surveillance

Know the problem weeds in your area and keep a sharp eye out. Pay particular attention to roadsides and ditches where weed seeds could have come in the water, or on vehicles or equipment. Watch fencelines and power lines; some weed seeds can remain viable after passing through a bird’s digestive system and be deposited in droppings of roosting birds.

Check areas where you fed purchased hay. Many weed infestations have been traced to hay.

Discovery and action

Discovery and action should go hand in hand. Too often, managers will discover a weed infestation and intend to do something but fail to follow through in a timely manner. Good surveillance and quick discovery don’t kill weeds, effective actions do.

When taking action, consider all of the weed control tools available. Weed management professionals recommend a five-pronged approach known as integrated weed management.

Prevention

Clean vehicles and equipment that may be carrying weed seeds or soil. Buy feed and seed that is free from weed seed.

Biological control

Biological control is simply managing other organisms against weeds. It rarely results in complete control. It is most useful in helping to keep established weed infestations in check.

Cultural control

Weed seedlings have difficulty surviving in a stand of healthy desirable plants. Grazing management is the primary tool for managing the health and grass canopy in pasturelands.

Mechanical control

Hand pulling is especially good for controlling new invaders. Sometimes nothing beats pulling the weed and putting it in a black plastic bag. Mowing can prevent seed production, but timing is critical.

Chemical control

The right herbicide, in the right amount, at the right time can very effectively control many weeds. However, people who rely only on chemical control often don’t get the control they need. Chemicals, combined with improved grazing management and quick follow-up, is a much better recipe for success.

More surveillance

This is where many weed management programs break down. Persistent follow-up is necessary. No weed control project will be 100 percent successful. This is where a structured rangeland-monitoring program can pay dividends. It will allow you to evaluate your success and see changes over time.

Using something like Nebraska Extension’s GrassSnap smartphone app (GrassSnap) can make grabbing repeatable photo-monitoring data a simple task.

Once again, successful weed control programs aren’t a “once and done” task to be checked off your list. Persistence is the key to success.  end mark

PHOTO: Spraying a pasture. Photo by Thinkstock.

Jay Jenkins
  • Jay Jenkins

  • Extension Educator – Cherry County
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension
  • Email Jay Jenkins

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