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Stemming the tide of herbicide resistance

Agricultural consultant and WeedSmart representative Peter Newman says Australia is succeeding in stemming the tide of herbicide resistance.
Agricultural consultant and WeedSmart representative Peter Newman says Australia is succeeding in stemming the tide of herbicide resistance.

With herbicide resistance a serious problem for growers across the world, agricultural consultant Peter Newman says Australia has succeeded in at least stemming the tide.

This success, he says, is partly attributable to an industry-wide education initiative called WeedSmart that has resulted in Australian farmers becoming world leaders in diverse weed management.

“Australia had a massive problem with herbicide resistance,” says Peter, who is the spokesperson for the WeedSmart program that is managed by Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative.

“That resistance is permanent. But we’re finding that year after year, the number of weeds are reducing because Australian growers are using diverse control tactics. We’re managing to control the seedbank.”

The turning point came around five years ago when Peter says research showed a serious lack of awareness among Australian growers about herbicide resistance, in particular glyphosate resistance.

“Glyphosate is said to be a once in a lifetime herbicide and it is easily our most important herbicide. When we learnt that there was low levels of awareness of the risk of glyphosate resistance we realised that something needed to be done”.

“So the findings came as a real wake-up call. We knew we needed to make growers more aware of the risks of herbicide resistance, the risk to their livelihood and also share ideas about other options to use a diverse range of weed management tools.”

Competitors and industry groups decided to join forces and create a single platform and voice in order to communicate with growers.

A number of companies, including Syngenta, support WeedSmart through sponsorship, ensuring that the message is consistent and ‘front of mind’ for more than five years now.

An ongoing communication program targeted at growers, WeedSmart includes an online resource hub with research and practical solutions for growers on herbicide resistance, webinars, podcasts, social media presence, visits to field days and most recently, WeedSmart Week.

“It’s all about building awareness and giving growers somewhere to learn online,” says Peter.

“WeedSmart is backed by university research and thus helps researchers communicate directly to growers about the latest findings.

“It’s hard to measure in practical terms the impact WeedSmart is having but we do get strong engagement and farmers do rank it highly as a place to source information, so we feel it is working well.”

Peter says it is clear that the overall message about using diverse tactics to control the seedbank is getting through.

“It can take a while for growers to move from being reactive and throwing chemicals at the problem to being more proactive about controlling the seedbank, but we can see from the results that that is what’s happening.”

Another impressive aspect of the WeedSmart program, says Peter, is that the Australian industry is speaking with one voice on the subject.

“Companies, like Syngenta, that sell herbicides want growers to succeed and use all the tools they have, which includes both herbicides and non-herbicide tools.

“Each year, these companies, who are everyday competitors, sit together and work together to contribute to a common goal – getting the message out about the importance of diverse weed management, and it is truly remarkable.

“The problem hasn’t blown out - we are managing to hold back the tide. But it will always be a big concern that we need to keep on top of - or even better, stay in front of.”

Syngenta is proud to support Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative’s WeedSmart Program, helping us to help growers farm today, for tomorrow.