Growing Innovation: Issue 19, November 24, 2016

Watch out, weeds: new investment to deliver knockout blows

Hort Innovation and the University of New England are taking up the fight against weeds impacting on Aussie vegetable crops, with a new $1 million project set to deliver crucial management tools for the industry.

The four-year project aims to safeguard the vegetable industry by reducing its dependence on herbicides and tillage for weed control, which can become ineffective when used repeatedly.

Project leader Paul Kristiansen, from the University of New England’s School of Environmental and Rural Science, said weed management needs to be strategic. “Herbicides or tillage can’t be sustained in isolation year after year. If growers continually use only one method of weed control, they apply evolutionary pressure that encourages the growth of weeds resistant to those methods,” he said.

“We have seen a worrying rise in herbicide-resistant weeds in broadacre agriculture, and vegetable growers may see similar signs emerging in their industry.”

Dr Kristiansen also said constant tillage takes a toll on soil health, noting that healthy soil is key to productivity for growers.

The new weed project will deliver a suite of tools and techniques to make vegetable fields naturally less hospitable to weeds, minimising the need for intervention and dealing weeds a knockout blow.

“It’s about chaining together a series of small management changes to produce a big result,” Dr Kristiansen said. “For instance, the grower might increase sowing rates to crowd out small weeds, use biodegradable mulches, and pay more attention to soil hygiene to reduce weed seeds in the soil seedbank. Each practice in itself doesn’t require a drastic change in management, but together they could add up to a profound difference in the weed burden that growers deal with from year to year.”

As part of the project, researchers will conduct field trials in various states and consult with growers across the nation, including those using organic production methods. The findings will culminate in a comprehensive Vegetable Industry Weed Manual, which will be made available to industry in several different languages.

Hort Innovation chief executive John Lloyd said vegetable growers face unique challenges when it comes to weed management, and this project will help. “Weeds are a persistent problem for many vegetable producers in Australia – favourable growing conditions and regular soil disturbances are just two contributing factors,” he said.

“This investment will give producers the very best management practices to ensure they can continue to deliver quality vegetables to Australian consumers and export markets for years to come.”

This project is being funded by Hort Innovation using vegetable industry levies and funds from the Australian Government.


Image: University of New England researchers Christine Fyfe, Research Project Manager, and Michael Coleman, Institute for Rural Futures, who will be driving the project

Go to issue 19 of Growing Innovation