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28 August 2020 Developing a multispecies weed competition model for high-yielding cotton
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Glyphosate-tolerant and glyphosate-resistant weeds are becoming increasingly problematic in cotton fields in Australia, necessitating a return from a glyphosate dominated system to a more integrated approach to weed management. The development of an integrated weed management system can be facilitated by identifying the critical period for weed control (CPWC), a model that enables cotton growers to optimize the timing of their weed control inputs. Using data from field studies conducted from 2003 to 2015, CPWC models using extended functions, including weed biomass in the relationships, were developed for the mimic weeds, common sunflower and Japanese millet, in high-yielding, fully irrigated cotton. A multispecies CPWC model was developed after combining these data sets with data for mungbean in irrigated cotton, using weed height and weed biomass as descriptors in the models. Comparison of observed and predicted relative cotton-lint yields from the multispecies CPWC model demonstrated that the model reasonably described the competition from these three very different mimic weeds, opening the possibility for cotton growers to use a multispecies CPWC model in their production systems.

Nomenclature: Cotton; Gossypium hirsutum L. GOSHI; common sunflower; Helianthus annuus L. HELAN; Japanese millet; Echinochloa esculenta (A. Braun) H. Scholz; mungbean; Vigna radiata (L.) R. Wilczek


Weeds are ever-present pests of cotton production in Australia, with glyphosate-tolerant and glyphosate-resistant weeds becoming increasingly problematic over time because of overreliance on glyphosate in the farming system, combined with a reduction in the use of other weed control tactics (Charles et al. 2020a; Koetz 2019a; Werth et al. 2013). The increase in weed issues over the past decade has necessitated the return to a more integrated weed management (IWM) system on many cotton farms, with the increasing use of residual herbicides, interrow cultivation, and hand hoeing (Koetz 2019b). One of the concepts that could facilitate the adoption of an IWM system would be a weed control threshold, enabling cotton growers to optimize the timing of their weed control inputs (Knezevic and Datta 2015; Knezevic et al. 2002; Korres and Norsworthy 2015). A weed control threshold would help cotton growers balance the need to control weeds before they become problematic, against practical considerations such as the availability of equipment and labor and the costs of weed control, including the potential costs of crop damage and off-target herbicide movement. Weeds need to be controlled before they set seed and before weed competition increases to the level at which it results in yield reductions. However, weed control inputs need to be managed to minimize the number of inputs needed over the crop-growing season, and to reduce costs and negative production, and environmental effects (Taylor et al. 2004). A weed control threshold will help cotton growers balance those needs.

Pest control thresholds have been widely used in cotton production in Australia, starting with the introduction of SIRATAC, a pest threshold-based tool introduced in the 1980s for managing heavy infestations of insecticide-resistant helicoverpa (Helicoverpa armigera and H. punctigera; Hearn and Bange 2002). Since then, pest control thresholds have been adopted for all major insect and mite pests of cotton in Australia, with individual thresholds developed for each species or group of closely related species (Grundy 2019). The need for individual thresholds has been necessitated by the widely varying impacts of different insects. Thrips (Thrips tabaci, Frankliniella schultzei, F. occidentalis), for example, can cause unacceptable early-season damage to cotton, but at low numbers they can be beneficial to the crop later in the season because they are key predators of spider-mite (Tetranychus urticae) eggs, another major pest species (Grundy 2019). Spider mites are generally a later-season pest, with the threshold modified according to the expected length of the growing season for the differing cotton-growing regions. Hence, different thresholds are applied to thrips and mites because these pests impact the cotton crop in very different ways.

A multispecies weed control threshold should, at least conceptually, be simpler to develop than generalized insect thresholds, because most weeds have similar competitive effects on a crop, with the level of damage caused by plant competition most closely related to the time of weed emergence (relative to crop emergence) and duration of competition, weed density, and weed size (Askew and Wilcut 2001, 2002a, 2002b; Cortés et al. 2010; Fast et al. 2009; Korres and Norsworthy 2015; Ma et al. 2016; Scott et al. 2000; Webster et al. 2009). The impact of weed competition on a crop can also be affected by factors such as seasonal variation (Bukun 2004), soil moisture (Tingle et al. 2003; Vencill et al. 1993), soil fertility (Robinson 1976; Tursun et al. 2015), row spacing (Tursun et al. 2016), and crop health (Buchanan et al. 1977; Webster and Davis 2007). However, in fully irrigated cotton production in Australia, most of these factors are maintained as closely as possible to optimum, such that these factors should normally have little influence on the crop's response to weed competition. Hence, a generalized weed control threshold model for irrigated cotton in Australia might be possible if the model is able to account for the time of weed emergence, duration of weed growth, weed density, and weed size (Charles et al. 2019a).

Figure 1.

The influence of common sunflower (A) biomass, and (B) plant height on relative cotton-lint yield. Parameters of the models are as follows: y is the relative crop yield; B is the above-ground weed biomass; and H is the weed height. Data points for the relationships are treatment means.