Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides in North American corn production, but heated controversy remains over the 50-plus-year-old product.

Several other herbicides are used in corn production, and a host of non-chemical tactics are sometimes used, too. If the use of atrazine is restricted or banned altogether, how will sweet corn growers cope?

A recent University of Illinois study shows sweet corn can be grown successfully without atrazine, but given today's approach, perhaps not very often.

"We wanted to know the implications of using less atrazine in current weed management systems of sweet corn," said USDA Agricultural Research Service ecologist at the U of I Marty Williams.

"We conducted field studies at locations throughout North America and found that weed control falls apart pretty quickly as atrazine is removed."

Williams said that further restrictions or a complete ban of atrazine would increase occurrences of weed control failure and subsequent yield losses in sweet corn, so finding an alternative is important.

"Atrazine is relied on more heavily in sweet corn than field corn, and an economically comparable herbicide doesn't exist. Prior to our research, it wasn't known if the newest herbicide chemistry enabled the amount of atrazine to be reduced while maintaining yield protection."

As the fate of atrazine remains unknown and voices are heard pro and con, Williams said, his team's recent findings provide a research-based analysis of the implications of using less atrazine in sweet corn production.

Performance consistency of reduced atrazine use in sweet corn will be published in the March issue of Field Crops Research, and is currently available online. Coauthors include Rick Boydston (Agricultural Research Service at Prosser, WA), Ed Peachey (Oregon State University), and Darren Robinson (University of Guelph, Canada).