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FARGO, N.D. - A new survey shows Roundup Ready beets were a success in the Red River Valley in its maiden year of 2008.

But while the glyphosate-resistant beets have proven themselves as the best tool sugar beet growers have against weeds, there are potential problems on the horizon, said Jeff Stachler, North Dakota State University's and University of Minnesota's new extension sugar beet weed specialist. Here since May, Stachler came from Ohio and is a nationally known expert on glyphosate resistance in weeds.

"There is no better herbicide than we have ever used in our entire lives to control weeds than glyphosate," Stachler said. "And it doesn't look like we'll ever see another product like it."

He warns that the success with weed control in Roundup Ready sugar beets may be short-lived unless producers apply the glyphosate-active ingredient properly - all of the time.

Future concerns

Weeds that are injured but survive to produce even a few seeds can create future concerns, he said. Resistant weeds showed up in the first year of Roundup Ready beets.

"We now have resistance to the best herbicide ever discovered - exclamation point," said Stachler, who spoke Dec. 3 at Northern Ag Expo seminar in Fargo, N.D. The two-day trade show brought moderate crowds to the Fargodome as farmers chewed away at the last of the corn crop, but seminars like Stachler's drew intense interest.

Stachler said that unless the crop protectant industry comes up with a new form of chemistry, farmers may have to turn to "other strategies, outside of chemicals, to control weeds." He half-jokes that perhaps John Deere will develop a "robot that goes through the field" after chemicals are used and "kill the weeds that are left." That may be only alternative, in the absence of "new sites of action" in herbicide activity.

Largely positive sugar company and Extension Service survey data after year one are in and are largely positive, especially for producers who have a history of dense weed populations, Stachler said.

Some growers this year waited longer than normal to start applying glyphosate, and then adverse weather extended this further. This probably cut yields and, in some instances, some of those plants set seed. Necessary subsequent applications controlled most weeds.

Strict guidelines

"Because sugar beets are so susceptible to herbicides that carry over, there are very strict guidelines on what type of herbicide and crop rotations we want to be practicing," Stachler said.

But Roundup Ready sugar beets are at greater risk for selecting glyphosate-resistant weeds if the beets follow other Roundup Ready crops where only glyphosate is used.

Stachler said producers always need to add ammonium sulfate to improve control for any weed, but for lamb's-quarters, they should add a nonionic surfactant.

"I think we need to put surfactants in with any glyphosate formulations as long as it's not prohibited from being put in there," Stachler said.

"We need to use the higher rate range because we have these individuals that are escaping."

The level of resistance is low for glyphosate, especially in lamb's-quarters and kochia. Because of that, it will take longer for resistance to develop, but once it does, it will be a big problem.

One of the realities is the proliferation of Roundup Ready crops in the region. They immediately become "weeds" for sugar beet producers growing Roundup Ready beets.

Farmers incur costs in controlling these volunteers, especially if they can't tank mix a secondary herbicide or must make an extra pass to apply it.

There were about 529,000 acres beets grown in the Red River Valley area in 2008. About 421,000 of those were for American Crystal Sugar in Moorhead, Minn., and 108,000 for Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative of Wahpeton, N.D.

Of the total, about 53 percent of Crystal's acres were Roundup Ready beets and Minn-Dak had about 50 percent.

Yields are poorer so far. At Crystal, conventional varieties yielded an average of 25.9 tons per acre, and the Roundup Ready varieties yielded 25.2 tons, according to preliminary figures.

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