How farmers can keep control with good weed management

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By Toni Stauffer

Many greens are beginning to poke their heads out of the dirt, but some are nefarious for farmers and their fields, like the hairy buttercup. It sounds like a funny band name, but that weed is no joke to farmers. Once you see its yellow blooms brightening the pastures, it’s too late to stop it. Now is the time to plan your spring weed control, because the best way to control weeds is to prevent them with good forage and harvesting management.

According to Alex Tigue, Alabama regional extension agent and animal science and forages specialist, soil fertility and proper fertilization is the key to a healthy field. He recommends testing soil every three years and testing hayfields every year; then, fertilize accordingly. Also, don’t allow grazing or short-cutting during growing season, but let your field rest until fully recovered. Not using proper field management can cause bare spots, prime growing space for weeds.

Tigue also recommends being on the lookout for weeds all year and as early in the season as possible. Finding weeds when they are small is the best time for effective control. It’s also important to correctly identify your weeds, but with hundreds of different species, identification can be a difficult task. Your local extension office, or farm supply store, should be able to help. If taking pictures, Tigue advises farmers and gardeners get pictures of leaves, flowering structures, stem, roots, fruit or seeds, and the area found. Common spring weeds, besides Hairy Buttercup, are Curly Dock, Carolina Geranium, Henbit, Little Barley and several types of thistles. Keep in mind that warmer weather means a new set of weeds as the others die, which is why you must check your fields on a regular basis.

If you decide to use a herbicide, Tigue warns that farmers must be sure to use the appropriate chemical at the labeled rate, because not all herbicides work the same as most are selective for certain weed species. For instance, those that kill broadleaf will also damage or kill clovers. Herbicides meant for grass weeds, could damage or kill necessary pasture grasses like Bahiagrass or Fescue. Remember, the label is law. Also make sure you pay attention to weather and time. Most winter and spring weeds being active growth above 70 degrees and that is when you should spray. Tigue reminds farms to spray when there is little or no wind to avoid drift.

To summarize, test soil, fertilize, no grazing or short-cutting during growing season, scout early and often, identify correctly, apply right chemical at the right time and at the right rate. For more information on weed identification, soil testing, herbicides, or any other pasture or hayfield concerns, check with your local extension office. The Alabama Russell County Extension number is 334-298-6845.