There’s no way to sugar coat it. Philip Grimes hates weeds.
The only thing he hates worse than a weed growing in or around his fields is a weed allowed to go to seed. He won’t stand for it. All weeds go, and always sooner rather than later.
Mr. Clean? A weed warrior? A perfectionist? Yeah, he could be called all three. He is an aggressive weed manager with a system that works, is flexible enough to adjust as needed and, most importantly, pays off on his farm in high yields.
“If weeds seed out, then they are a tremendous problem the following year. I mean weeds in general, but especially Palmer (amaranth, or pigweed). If you let it seed, then you have thousands of Palmers following that one plant,” Grimes said, in his deliberate but genuine way of speaking.
Glyphosate-resistant pigweed showed up on his farm two years ago, but it had been around the area for much longer. His militant approach to weed management for all weeds likely kept Palmer’s seedbank in check on his farm, buying him time before it hit hard, but still setting him up now to deal with it better.
He farms 1,800 acres of peanuts, watermelon, cantaloupe, cotton and corn in Tift County, Ga., located in the south-central part of the state.
Born there, he’s been farming more than 40 years. He rents two-thirds of his land. He cover crops most of it with rye and burns that rye down when it gets to three feet or a bit taller
Crop rotation is a big part of his overall weed management strategy. He rotates from peanuts to cantaloupe or watermelon to cotton or corn, putting his peanut rotation on a three- to four-year cycle.
“The rotation helps, because we can use different products instead of using the same ones every year and running the risk of getting resistance,” he said. But that is tricky, too. He has to plan a year or more in advance on what will be planted to a specific field and know exactly what will be happening in it to make sure no carryover from herbicides hurts a vulnerable follow-up crop.
Strategy for each crop
He has weed management strategies for each crop he grows, but they are just individual parts of an overall farm weed management approach. And he has records in his truck going back a dozen years on what works, he says, but more importantly he keeps careful notes of what didn’t work good enough.
All his fields are pretty much irrigated, which is a big-plus tool to use to fight weeds. Irrigation makes sure he can water in his residual herbicides when they need to be activated without depending on the fickle whims of Mother Nature to do it.
But the opposite of that was a problem this year.
Rain drenched the region this spring and summer in near-record amounts. Upwards of 50 inches, or pretty much an average-year’s worth, dropped March through August.
The excessive rain made the cantaloupe crop a disaster, pumping the melons with too much water and making it hard to harvest them in a timely manner. It also messed up weed management applications, but he adjusted and kept on it.
He had to throw some additional over-the-top herbicide sprays in his fields, spot spraying here and there. But even so, there’re still and always will be weed “escapes,” he said.
“You look out there and you see one growing and you say, ‘How the heck did that get there?’ but that’s when you have to go out there and hand weed. And I don’t mean you pull it up and leave it in the field. You have to get it out of the field,” he said.
Grimes isn’t one to brag. (He’s barely one to say too much of anything that really doesn’t need to be said.)
But for his weed management strategy, he gives credit where credit should go: He follows University of Georgia Extension weed management recommendations … to the letter. If someone wants to know exactly what he does, he says, from products used to timing to even hand weeding, call your local Extension office.
Brian Tankersley, UGA Extension director in Tift County, and UGA Extension Weed Specialist Stanley Culpepper both hold Grimes up as a good example of how aggressive weed management can payoff in Georgia.
The only problem is it is tough to do on-farm research on his place because of Grimes’ zero-weed tolerance policy.
Grimes welcomes research trials on his farm. “I like to see how something can work on the farm,” he said. “I don’t mind it (the research trials) as long as they don’t let the weed seed get out,” he said with a sly grin.
It costs money to keep weeds out of the picture in a picture now filled tighter with resistant-weed issues in Georgia.
Cost has gone up
He spends $75 to $100 dollars on herbicides per acre on cotton, more than he did a few years ago before resistant Palmer landed.
Corn, with the atrazine-Roundup punch it can bring, costs him $40 per acre.
On peanuts, he spends $60 to $70 per acre on weed control.
So, does being a perfectionist payoff?
Grimes is pretty much a standing member of the University of Georgia, Syngenta and BASF Georgia Peanut Achievement Club, an award given annually to top Georgia peanut farmers.
In recent years, Grimes has locked in a three-ton-plus average per acre for his 600 or so acres of peanuts annually, using the Ga-06G variety.
On a day in mid-September, he had just finished corn harvest. He averaged 291 bushels per acre on his crop this year. Outstanding yields and the best average he says he’s had. But what was in the back of his mind?
“Right now, we just got through harvesting corn. And looking at the fields, you got pigweeds that are already up three or four inches high,” he said, peering from the corner of his eyes and demonstrating dimension with thumb and finger.
“If you don’t get out there and destroy them with a harrower or burndown, they’re going to seed out no matter how tall they are, even at three inches. We went in there with a harrower and got them.”
Again, on that same day in mid-September day, Grimes was in his cotton field, one he intercropped with cantaloupes this year. The field was clean. No weed in sight. But in the roads that crisscross the field, small three- to four-inch Palmers popped up. “See that seed head on them, they’ll try and seed out,” he said.
The weeds weren’t Palmer amaranth, or the one resistant to glyphosate, but that didn’t matter now did it. They had to go.
He was working up a sprayer to go hood over the field roads the next day, making sure not to hit the mature, now herbicide-vulnerable cotton on either side.
Even with so much rain causing problems for some cotton in the area, his looked good and was setting up for a good crop.
He sticks with Roundup Ready cotton varieties for now, adding that he’s keeping the Liberty-tolerant cotton option as his back-up weapon against Palmer amaranth. When it is time, he says, he’ll pull that trigger.
Back at his office, he was asked about a small jon boat parked under one of his sheds. Grimes said the boat wasn’t a fishing boat. It was a pond management boat, particularly for irrigation ponds.
“That algae (and weed) will get into the ponds and clog up the pipes. We go in there and spray and clean’em up with that,” pointing at the boat. “Works better that way.”
Yeah, Philip Grimes hates weeds.
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