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50-year saga in battle against weeds

Tom Bauman’s roots in weed control date back to when cultivation was king. Farmers applied granular herbicides like Ramrod over the row. Today, they plant crops with built-in tolerance to broad-spectrum herbicides.

From flame throwers to Roundup Ready soybeans, Bauman, Purdue University weed control specialist, has seen it all. Here’s a rundown of milestones in weed control:

Atrazine era. For some 50 years, Atrazine has been a cornerstone in weed control. “We can’t use the rates we once did due to environmental reasons, but it’s still in many products,” Bauman notes. “It’s relatively cheap and effective.”

Key Points

• For some 50 years, Atrazine has remained a cornerstone in weed control.

• Breakthroughs included Treflan, Scepter and glyphosate-resistant crops.

• No-till weed control requires more management.


Early names. Lasso for grasses and Amiben for broadleaves were big in the 1960s. Some still went over the rows, with cultivation churning up middles.

Big breakthrough. Another buzzword in the ’60s was Treflan from Elanco. Revolutionary for its time, it controlled both grasses and weeds. “We helped farmers figure out how to best incorporate it,” he recalls.

A big hole was filled when Basagran and Blazer emerged in the 1970s, Bauman notes. “We finally could pick up broadleaf weeds postemergence.”

Glyposate also appeared in the mid-70s, but it wasn’t used widely in crops then. The first use in crops was in recirculating sprayers and weed-wiping bars to get weeds taller than the crop.

Soybean over-the-top grass herbicides. It was big news when Poast and Fusilade were approved. “It gave us more weapons against grasses,” Bauman says. “There are a whole host of products in this category today. There are differences in how well they work on various weeds and volunteer corn.”

Scepter and Pursuit. The next big breakthrough came when American Cyanamid introduced first Scepter, then Pursuit. They were very effective.

Researching herbicide injury.Scepter hit the market in 1988 during one of the driest springs ever. Possible carryover became a major research piece and a big topic at farmer meetings, Bauman says. Classic and Canopy appeared about the same time. “Despite carryover problems, these post herbicides were miracles of their day,” Bauman says.

Roundup Ready. Not even Bauman could foresee how quickly glyphosate over the top in Roundup Ready soybeans would change weed control tactics forever. “It made farmers who struggled with weeds look good,” he says. “At first we were told weed resistance wouldn’t be an issue. Obviously, today it is, and we work on that so we know what to tell farmers.”

LibertyLink and Ignite. Talk about a slow path to the market! Bauman looked at it, especially in soybeans, a decade before it hit the market.

No-till era. Bauman spent countless hours evaluating no-till vs. conventional plots. His talks pointed out the challenges of weed control in no-till. His message wasn’t always well-received, but he stuck to his guns, noting that while soil erosion is an overriding factor in some fields, tillage still helps control weeds.

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King of plots : For years Bauman put out hundreds of comparison plots like these.

This article published in the August, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.