Production Blog

Getting Boots Dirty Down Under

By Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
The Australian farmer connected to these J.M. Williams boots battles herbicide-resistant weeds on a daily basis. The classic elastic side riding boot, shorts and wool socks are classic attire in the farming region of Western Australia. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

EAST PINGELLY, Western Australia (DTN) -- Go ahead and call Australian farmers "cocky" because that exactly the term used to define farmer down under. I've only been exploring this region for a week, but I now know to head to the paddock (field), understand there is danger in a willy-willy (dust devil) and that some growers like to give their soils a gentle tickle (tillage to stimulate weeds emergence so they can then control them before they can set seeds).

I came to Western Australia to walk in the boots of farmers and learn more about the tactics they are employing to battle herbicide-resistant weeds. I found more.

The production practices here are nearly all driven by herbicide resistance issues. Yesterday, I watched headers (combines) separate weed-seed-filled chaff from straw within the combine. Some growers collect the seed in special chaff carts. The latest machine pulverizes the weed seed from within the combine. In other cases, growers are baling the weed-infested chaff and removing it from the field for other uses.

Targeting weed seeds at harvest is a pre-emptive strike. The goal is to prevent viable seed from ever entering the seed bank. Watch for more coverage of this in coming days and weeks.

Hang around the Aussies and you'll quickly learn they are prone to mischief. Yes, they speak English, but it takes a bit to get on to their colorful cliches. They have the ability to confuse, abuse and amuse with a few words. Generally though, they don't mean it with disrespect -- if anything, they are laughing at themselves.

What they aren't laughing about is the issue of weed resistance to herbicides. To effectively control problem weeds, they understand that all phases of the life cycle must be attacked using a range of chemical and non-chemical methods. The aim is to deplete the seed bank, control seedlings and small plants, stop seed set and prevent new seeds entering from outside the system.

The Australian cocky has no crop insurance program (beyond hail and fire) and no government support system to speak of. Most are dealing with drought conditions, they are in transitional years for marketing after the demise of the Australian Wheat Board, their dollar is affecting input costs and in general, farming margins are thin.

Yet, American farmers might be surprised to learn that these resilient growers feel sorry for their U.S. counterparts.

Crikey! Why?

It is because these blokes have lived the nightmare of herbicide-resistant weeds. They figure ryegrass is bad, but not near the nightmare of our poster children for weed problems -- Palmer amaranth and waterhemp. They understand that proactive management means taking a systems approach. Reactive management from a jug isn't enough.

Good on you, Aussies. That's a lesson we haven't learned yet.

Pam Smith can be reached at


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Pamela Smith 3/4/2013 | 4:27 PM CST
Ha! It's a long plane ride, but definitely worth it!
LeeFarms 3/4/2013 | 10:16 AM CST
Bet they had to twist your arm and throw you in the plane to get you to leave Omaha and go to Australia!