With inflation and interest rates continuing to rise, Brock Waggoner wants strip-tillers  to be strategic about chemical inputs.

Waggoner is the northern sales agronomist for Helm Agro, a 122-year-old German company with a longstanding presence in the U.S. that offers a suite of herbicide and crop protection products.

“We talk about interest rates and inflation for consumer pocketbooks,” he says, “but you also must remember there’s the consumer index, and there’s the wholesale supply index. As a supplier, we also have inflation that comes into play.” 

Helm manufactures as much product as possible in the U.S., but material shortages and limited capacity affect what — and how much — is available at a given point in the year. Sourcing and importing materials aren’t always straightforward, Waggoner says. 

“In a normal situation, you have a low price and low availability of containers, or you have a high price and high availability of containers,” he says. “We have both of those affecting us now. So that’s why we’re still seeing the high prices on agrochemicals.”

What does this mean for strip-tillers? 

Because supply shortages are still affecting prices and product availability, Waggoner says it’s important to start conversations with retailers as soon as possible about weed control programs and potential herbicide alternatives.

“If you start thinking about strategically purchasing your inputs, make those decisions early, but at the same time consider some alternate strategies.”

Thinking Outside the Box

One proven strategy, says Waggoner, is to combine multiple active ingredients in tank mixes. Last year, Helm released Reviton — a new broadleaf burndown herbicide containing the active ingredient tiafenacil. According to Reviton’s product label, the herbicide can be applied at 1-3 fluid ounces per acre in combination with glyphosate to improve burndown and postemergence efficacy.

Where herbicide prices were high in spring 2023, many producers opted to add Reviton into the tank to help stretch supply and add value to the glyphosate, Waggoner says. This also can mean lower use rates overall.

Retailers are always learning and gaining access to new products and technologies, and it’s worth asking them what might be available to diversify an operation’s crop protection portfolio, Waggoner adds. 

“I think of strip-till as a progressive way of farming… think about alternative technologies that go beyond herbicide chemistries…”

“Take a few minutes and ask them, ‘Who have you been talking to when you’re not with me for some of these supply inputs or new technologies?’ Maybe we can look at an alternate option there and maybe a different price structure,” he says.

Waggoner also recommends using herbicides with residual activity to help extend value into the growing season. 

“Every one of my recommendations has residual products in there,” he says. “That’s part of what makes this work. Even if you’ve got cover crops, you’ve got to come in and have that residual when you terminate.”

Order early, order just what you need and don’t overapply, Waggoner says. It’s also important to identify “problem” fields.

“How many times have you said, ‘Here’s the program I’ve got, I’m going to put it across my whole farm.’ And you look at the price,” he says. “Sometimes it pays to spend $15 on an extra acre on this 3rd year farm that you know you’ve got your problems with. The no. 1 weed spreader is your combine. That’s what brings it to your whole farm.”

If strip-tillers can develop an aggressive weed control program for smaller zones, they can potentially deplete the weed seed bank in those areas and head off a weed problem before it spreads to the rest of the farm. 

“You’re transferring dollars from your farm into your bank account when you manage those weeds and deplete that weed seed bank,” Waggoner says.

Maximize Herbicide Efficacy

Most of the phone calls Waggoner has gotten in 2023 have been from farmers with weed issues who are lowering their rates due to the cost of herbicides. 

“These producers were trying to use the lowest rate they can,” Waggoner says. “At the end of the day, they had to come back in and spray, so they ended up wasting their time and diesel fuel. Make sure to read the label and use the appropriate rates for the weed size.”

Waggoner also stresses the importance of using the correct water volume. 

“Farmers are trying to cut water volumes too often, especially on burndown products or contact herbicides,” he says. “The no. 1 thing I run into 

with what I call ‘cowboy wheat’ is farmers trying to apply at a rate of 6 gallons per acre because they don’t want to haul the water for 10 gallons per acre. But the label says 10 gallons per acre for a reason. It’s amazing — you go from 10 gallons to 6 gallons, and suddenly it does not work as a ground rig application.”

Water temperature can be a factor when it comes to mixing, and strip-tillers should check label guidelines to ensure they’re using the correct temperature to achieve a solution. 

“You’re transferring dollars from your farm into your bank account when you deplete that weed seed bank…”

“If you don’t manage temperatures then you’ll start seeing crystallization,” Waggoner says. “One time I poured 2,4-D and glyphosate, and suddenly it just looked like snow. My nozzles were clogged. I had to take everything out.”

Just as important as water volume and temperature is the time of day strip-tillers choose to spray. Products like phosphinothricin (glufosinate) interrupt photosynthetic activity and should be sprayed between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., says Waggoner. Spraying on sunny days instead of cloudy days can also make a difference. So, too, can the amount of dust in fields. Strip-tillers won’t have as much dust as neighbors who practice tillage, but dust can drift, and it can lower herbicide efficacy. 

“As you’re spraying these herbicides, keep track of drifting,” Waggoner says. “There’s a reason why a lot of herbicides are inactivated at the soil because chemically, they get bound up. This will happen if there’s a lot of dust on your plants.”

Spot-spraying is another technique that can boost efficiency. Applying chemistries at a higher rate in problem areas can mean better control overall. It can be important to deploy a post-emergent herbicide as well, says Waggoner. 

“Sometimes it pays to spend that extra $10 per acre to go out and spray a post-emergent product for killing the weeds,” he says. “You’d be amazed how many weeds will come up in a week, start going into their reproductive stage by week 2, and by week 3-4, they’ve already replenished the weed seed bank that you’ve been managing for the last 3 years.”

Mechanical Options

Mechanical control options are also on Waggoner’s radar, and in some cases, it might be necessary to mow, roller crimp, use a mechanical weed destructor or even use a flame weeder, he says, especially as the technology continues to develop and become more cost effective. 

When it comes to successful weed control, Waggoner believes it all boils down to taking a flexible approach.

“Think about alternative technologies that go beyond herbicide chemistries,” he says. “Biologicals, for example, can help get the crop up and outcompete weeds.

“I think of strip-till as a progressive way of farming, because you’re trying to use Mother Nature to her advantage. But at the same time, make sure that you’re providing the best opportunities for those seeds.”