The importance of applied research to agriculture productivity cannot be understated. Dr. Peter Sikkema of the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus shared his insights into the impact that research has in the area of weed science. This is the first of two commentaries on the importance of agricultural research, with this one focusing on the impact that applied research has on productivity.
Dr. Sikkema's first example focused on the importance of timing of the application of herbicide in controlling weeds. The average impact on yields by delaying for one day following emergence is half a bushel of yield. If the average price of corn is five dollars a bushel, then the farmer has lost two and a half dollars of profitability per acre. If application is delayed by a week the cost to farmers is $17.50 an acre. If you carry that across a thousand acres of production, it becomes a very significant loss in profitability.
The second example looked at whether it makes any difference whether you apply herbicides in the morning, the afternoon, or overnight. For some plants and for some herbicides there is only a marginal difference, but for others there is a huge impact. For example, spraying Liberty to control velvetleaf is ninety-seven percent effective if applied at high noon, but only sixty-eight percent effective if applied at midnight. This is because of the placement of leaves at different times of day and the subsequent level of contact between the herbicide and the target plant. The result is reduced weed control and ultimately reduced yields due to night-time applications of Liberty to control velvetleaf.
The final example is the on-going research that is being done to address the issue of glyphosate resistance in a variety of different weeds in Ontario. Experimentation is being done adding alternate chemicals such as 2,4 D into the mix to determine the most cost effective mix for handling weed application in an era where Roundup is just part of a weed control plan. In addition, there is a rotational approach being developed mixing herbicides instead of solely relying on Roundup. Without the development of these new approaches, the cost to industry in the future will be incredible.
Dr. Sikkema's examples demonstrate that applied research yields financial dividends for producers that are willing to learn from it. Looking to the future, the entire sector needs to ensure that applied research remains a priority for the sector in an era of reduced public funding.
Nathan Stevens is the General Manager and Director of Policy Development for the CFFO. He also operates a family farm in Perth County. He is a graduate of the University of Waterloo and Advanced Agricultural Leadership Program.