Conservation cropping systems with no-till and stubble retention improve soil condition and water conservation. However, tillage is replaced by herbicides for weed control in these systems, increasing the threat of herbicide resistance. In the medium to high rainfall zones of the southern wheatbelt of Australia and under irrigation, wider row spacing is used to enable seeding into heavy stubble loads and to avoid stubble burning. Some evidence suggests that wider rows lead to reduced crop competitive ability and crop yields, greater herbicide dependence, and increased spread of resistance. Our aim was to test the hypothesis that increasing seeding rate compensated for reduced competitive ability at wider row spacings, especially when herbicide performance was suboptimal. We examined the impact of two wheat row spacings (18 and 36 cm) and five seeding rates (resulting in a range of densities of ∼80–700 plants/m2) on control of Lolium rigidum with five rates of post-emergence application of diclofop-methyl (Hoegrass®), ranging from label rate to lower rates, over two growing seasons. In the presence of L. rigidum, wheat grain yield was unaffected by row spacing but was significantly reduced at low seeding rates, especially at lower herbicide rates. Lolium rigidum was suppressed at higher crop densities but was also unaffected by row spacing. Grain yield was maximised when post-emergence herbicide was applied at 60–100% of the recommended dose at wheat densities >∼300 plants/m2. Significant levels of the weed remained in the crop at anthesis in all treatments. Weed dry matter ranged from 525 g/m2 at low crop densities and with no herbicide to 150 g/m2 with the recommended rate of herbicide and high wheat densities. The implications of manipulating crop competitive ability to improve weed control are discussed, especially in conditions where herbicide performance is unreliable due to weeds developing herbicide resistance or adverse environmental conditions.
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Vol. 64 • No. 7