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Topical and interesting communication from Farmers Agri-Care March 2007

MERLIN: Long Residual Action Introduces a Change in Weed Control Strategy Conventional weed control strategy entails starting with a short, medium or long term herbicide programme, depending on time of cutting. This is typically followed-up with a second treatment, because the residual of the first programme will not last through to crop canopy. Invariably, one or two hand-weeding operations will also be needed.

periods, and wait on the surface until moisture arrives. Continuous spraying means that the firstsprayed fields come up for re-spray in a systematic fashion, and in limited area. I.e.: growers are not suddenly faced with large untreated areas once favourable spraying conditions present themselves. It eases pressure on management, and on spray teams and equipment: A smaller, welltrained application team can do the work. They are not restricted by adverse application conditions, giving better results and better return on investment.

For those farmers with large areas to manage, this conventional system incorporates a number of difficulties: Soil-acting cane herbicides need rainfall for incorporation and activation.

KEMBALI, Hibberdene:

As the rainy season approaches, 50 - 70% of the farm can end up exposed, waiting for ideal conditions to spray.

“This year we’ll budget on 4 labour units per hectare for the whole operation.”

Then, once the rains start, there is undue pressure on limited spray resources in the rush to spray the large untreated area.

Revell Saint’s operation covers some 6500 hectares of cane in two basic areas: Coastal – inland from Hibberene,

Precise timing of application becomes difficult to manage; invariably there is late spraying and poor knockdown, with disappointing results. The cost of hand-weeding can therefore make up a significant part of the overall weed control budget.

Inland – around Highflats. Of this, 5600 ha were cut this year. He is serviced by Dave Jenkins, Farmers Agri-Care’s agent for the Port Shepstone area.

The development of Merlin has introduced a completely new look on this strategy. It makes it possible to: Start early with a long-term programme: This means that the first-cut areas are immediately under effective chemical control. Continue spraying through the dry season with the same programme: Merlin can withstand dry Revel Saint of Kembali and Dave Jenkins

Dave: “Understanding a farmer’s philosophy about weed control is critical. Revell is fastidious about weed-free fields; there are no excuses and there is no compromise. These expectations are built into the products we choose, and the programmes we put together.” Revell: “Last year we sprayed about 400 ha with a 1 2 Merlin + Velpar combination as a test, to see if it would fit. Dave advised us to start small so we could learn how to manage Merlin, particularly its timing of application. We had good results; the managers got a feel for the product, so this year we applied it to about 1400 ha.” “We run gangs of 24 knapsack applicators per 1000 hectares in peak periods at the Coast. The fields are generally steep and application is a problem. The Merlin + Velpar mix has eliminated the second pre-canopy spray in many cases, saving a whole application operation. This means we have less pressure on management, and we can be more selective about spraying in good conditions.”

Kembali: Fields along the coast are steep, and weed management is difficult

Dave: “Inland at Highflats, Revell uses a JACTO airassisted sprayer with a windsock boom, which has given excellent results through its superior coverage. Last year we used other products here, but they didn’t give enough residual control for a cool area like this. This year with Merlin + Velpar, there has been an amazing improvement in grass control. Late sprayed fields needed no hand-weeding, right through into lateJanuary.” Revell: “In the past, we worked on 8 labour units per hectare for post-harvest ratoon management, including weeding. In our Merlin + Velpar fields, this has halved. This year we’ll budget on 4 units per hectare for the whole operation.” “Merlin is not a total solution, but as a management tool, it’s an absolute winner. Its spectacular length of control frees up so much time, we can cut down on labour and pay more attention to detail.” 1 2

MERLIN: The Business Solution That Buys Time (By Jim Chedzey, Farmers Agri-Care agent for Eshowe and Nkwaleni Valley) Due to its unique technical features, Merlin offers a new approach to calculating the cost of weed control. Its benefits reach into other parts of the cost of weedcontrol that have traditionally been treated separately from the cost of herbicides. Farmers can now integrate the cost of the entire weed control business solution, from the time of cutting through to canopy closure. These other costs include: 1.

The cost of application: Merlin’s strongest feature is its ability to work under dry conditions. Start with Merlin at the beginning of the cutting season, and continue right through winter regardless of dry periods, within reason. Once the rains start, the Merlin will be down and will be activated. The savings on spray resources will become evident once the cycle kicks in.


The cost of chemical: The exceptionally long residual of Merlin provides the lowest per week cost of chemical weed control available. It’s as simple as that! In many cases, Merlin eliminates the need and cost of a second precanopy application.


The cost of labour: The cost and efficacy of handweeding tends to be ignored in the great weed control debate. Other considerations to those already mentioned are: Hand-weeding is becoming less effective as labour becomes more problematic. If a follow-up is needed to the Merlin programme, mixes can be chosen which are cheaper per hectare and per week than handweeding. NOTE: If more than 4 labour units are needed to hand weed, rather use a chemical treatment.

In summary, a MERLIN programme is a BUSINESS SOLUTION THAT BUYS THE GROWER TIME: Providing him with the ability to put together an integrated weed control solution, Which gives effective weed management from cutting to canopy closure, And reduces hand-weeding to 3 or 4 labour units per hectare, or less.

Merlin (L6618) contains 750 g/kg isoxaflutole Velpar (L5432) contains 750 g/kg hexazinone

DOORNKOP SUGAR: “Merlin does the work for you…” Marc Dunlop has 1400 ha of cane, inland from the Tugela mouth on the North Coast. The farm has some irrigated lands adjacent to the river which are unsuitable for Merlin, but this year they sprayed 750 ha with a Merlin + Velpar + paraquat programme. Marc: “Most of the farm is on marginal Dwyka soils. On these soils, sharp management is critical to our profitability, and I believe it all starts with good weed control. From here, it rolls into other major cost centres like fertiliser, labour and machinery, and eventually hits the bottom line. Cutting costs on weed control will only help in the very short-term. This year we ran with Merlin + Velpar and it cost more up front, but labour savings alone paid for it. Never mind lower spraying costs or better utilisation of fertiliser.”

October onwards only needed a hand-weeding in January. Last year we averaged 4 – 5 labour units per hectare; this year we are down to less than 2 units per hectare.” Marc referred to a cost centre spreadsheet: In January 2006, hand-weeding accounted for 2270 units, In January 2007, this was just 977 units. “This concurs with what Arthur says: our hand-weeding costs are down by almost one third. Merlin has made a major contribution to our overall crop management. In another few years our weed pressure will be reduced, and I expect we’ll see even more benefits. But it all starts with my key belief that saving on weed control costs is a total fallacy.” Arthur: “The only excuse for a Merlin failure is late application. Don’t let the weeds get away. Next year we’ll start with clean fields, and overall management will be easier. Merlin has been an amazing management tool on a large farm like this.”

MERLIN + VELPAR: Working Well in the Midlands Merlin: 2 x 500 gram containers packaged in a box, with measuring device

Manager Arthur Eggers is emphatic that timing is critical to making Merlin work on a large operation like this. “We run a strict system: cut a field, do the ratoon management within 5 days, and spray within 10 days of cutting. I hate seeing herbicide scorch on cane. This way we spray early and avoid scorch on the crop from paraquat, but you need it to control any weeds that have emerged. Every day you delay with your spraying, will bite you at the end.” Marc: “Rainfall and timing of application are obviously critical, but you develop ‘a feel’ of how best to manage Merlin + Velpar. This year we started straight away with Merlin + Velpar when the season opened. We got 60 mm rain in June, and the first sprayed fields ran clean for almost 20 weeks.” Arthur: “We followed up those first sprayed fields with 3 4 a low-cost Acetochlor + Diuron treatment to get them to canopy. But the last sprayed fields from 3 4

Acetochior 900 EC (L6514) contains 900 g/litre acetochlor Diuron 800 SC (L7042) contains 800 g/litre diuron

Anton Woerner farms on Effingham, close to Dalton in the Midlands. He is serviced by Graham Evans of Farmers Agri-Care, who has been in the area for 17 years. Graham: “This farm has some excellent soils; high organic dolerite Huttons. Buffalo grass (Panicum maximum) pressure is very high here, even after years of good management.” Anton: “We also have some sandy TMS areas, which is where we start cutting when the mill opens. Here we immediately apply Merlin on its own, even if it is dry. These areas stay clean right through to spring, when we change to Merlin + Velpar at full rates.” “In past years, we had to use split-treatments of Velpar, or Velpar K. Application was always a problem because of dry winter conditions, and results were variable. Now Merlin has made things so much easier. Instead of watching the weather report and focusing 2 – 3 days ahead, one can plan 7 – 10 days ahead.”



Unique Double Action:

• Start spraying long-term programme as soon as cutting starts

• Insoluble 1st phase: remains inert and inactive until moisture arrives

• Synchronised 2nd phase: becomes herbicidally active with moisture, coinciding with seed germination

• Continue right through dry winter months, within reason • Overcomes timing dilemma: can apply at unfavourable stages of weed growth • Spray resources can be utilised more effectively over a longer period

• UV resistant: will not break down in sunlight

• Rainfall within a specified time frame is no longer an issue

Merlin + Velpar: Grass control right through to canopy in summer on heavy soils

Graham: “Much of this farm is north-facing. The warmer soil temperatures mean Anton has less pressure from Tall Fleabane (Conyza albida) in late summer. But Watergrass (Cyperus esculentus) is a big problem in all Midlands cane growing areas, and is not wellcontrolled with Merlin programmes.”

• Long residual activity

Anton: “We spot-spray the Watergrass areas with 5 Servian and add MCPA if there are broadleaf weeds. This works well. So the early-cut fields only get two treatments, and one hand weeding before Christmas.”

• Uptake via weed seed

“We have almost 400 hectares of cane, of which we cut about 60%. The Merlin + Velpar treatment has definitely had a reduction on hand-weeding. Labour is becoming increasingly problematic, and Merlin is helping significantly.”

MERLIN: A Business Solution for Total Weed Control Hylton Oliver is the Herbicide Portfolio Manager at Bayer CropScience, and was responsible for the commercialisation of Merlin from the beginning. Hylton: “Merlin-based programmes really represent a breakthrough in the approach to weed control. For the first time, a robust herbicide is playing a key role in integrating chemical costs with the cost of application and the cost of hand-weeding. It then reduces the whole package.The table below summarises:” 5

• Spray before timing becomes an issue

• Lowest cost per week of weed control • Substantial savings on hand-weeding

• Significant reduction of grass seed population after 3 years • Kills seed before emergence, no uptake of fertiliser by weeds

Hylton: “Considering all these on-farm advantages, Merlin surely represents more than just a cost-saving opportunity or a management tool. Many growers already consider Merlin as a product from which more returns are available than conventional herbicides. Brazil, USA, Mexico, Australia, Thailand and Columbia have all embraced the advantages that Merlin has to offer. These are SA’s global competitors. Our sugar industry cannot hope to maintain a competitive edge in the global sugar market by adhering to old technologies, simply because they perceive them to be “cheaper”. I urge those who are not yet convinced to try one of the many Merlin-based programmes offered by Farmers Agri-Care. Speak to others, look at the results, and then calculate the total weed control benefit in comparison to a traditional weed control program. Then look at this year’s herbicide business decisions in a new light, based on your own facts.”

SERVIAN (L5617) contains 750 g/kg halosulfuron

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