Producer turning the tide on blackgrass

Tom Sewell farms 1,200 acres near Maidstone in Kent and is probably best known for his work improving soil health on his farm, having won the Soil Farmer of the Year award in 2021.

This year, however, blackgrass is competing for its attention.

“We had the worst blackgrass ever,” Tom concedes. “It’s our fault. After having two wet autumns in 2019 and 2020, this year when we had good conditions in late September, we decided to drill. Looking back, it was a week too early and there was still plenty of black grass to chew on.

“We have used a sulfonylurea in the past, but in 2020 we found that it acted more like a PGR than a herbicide. He just checked the growth of the foxtail and kept it under the canopy. Dropping this from our herbicide program exposed issues that we probably already had,” he notes.

The program for this fall

Working no-till since 2014, Tom is extremely reluctant to plow. Instead, it will delay drilling and use its rotation to bring populations down.

“Delaying drilling is part of the reason why we recently invested in a bigger drill – when the time comes it will allow us to cover more ground faster,” he says.

“Last year, a field that we only planted in May required us to spray one field in February and another in late April, which killed a lot of foxtail. This field has almost no weeds. In the future, delaying spring harvests will also be part of our arsenal. »

Winter wheat will be established after light cultivation, designed to disturb only the top 5-10 mm of soil. And where blackgrass is a notable problem, Tom is aiming for two stale seedbeds, but admits he’s walking a fine line.


“The no-till drill is quite heavy, so once it gets wet, it’s over. This means that we must sow when it is dry… but then when it rains and the vulgar grows in the crop. It’s a catch 22. What we really need is rain after harvest, to be able to cultivate lightly, time to wait for the foxtail to grow, spray and then sow.

Tom’s current rotation is first wheat followed by a crop of rapeseed, winter beans, spring beans, spring flaxseed or spring oats.

After experimenting with a range of cover crops, he now scrapes the surface with a heavy rake in the fall to entice volunteers to push. It’s cheaper and more reliable than multi-species mixtures, he explains.

“Where the foxtail is really bad, we will do continuous spring crops until we have the upper hand,” he continues. “Oats are especially good at smothering black weeds.”

Luximo® tram test

When it comes to herbicides, Tom’s program has always been based on flufenacet and diflufenican. Now, after hosting a Real Results trial this year, Luximo® will be introduced.

“There were significantly lower populations of foxtail on the tram lines treated with the Luximo compared to those that received the farm standard,” says Tom.

“And this is only the first year. Like any new tool, it takes time to learn how to get the most out of it. This is going to be very useful and an important part of the whole package.

New mode of action

Jonnie Dennis, BASF’s agronomy manager who worked with Tom on the trial, agrees: “Over the past 10 to 15 years, as an industry, we’ve been forced to rely on the flufenacet. This is the mainstay of the programs and we now apply high grams of active every year. It’s not sustainable.

“The situation makes Luximo’s new mode of action even more important, not only for resistance management, but also for grass management.”

In 106 trials over four years, Luximo® provided an average of 20% more control points of foxtail compared to flufenacet and delivered these higher levels of control more consistently.

Black Grass Trials Chart


“Luximo is a real step forward and we see it working in very difficult situations,” adds Jonnie.

“The label is now out and application recommendations are similar to other residual herbicides – apply Luximo to a fine, firm seedbed with moisture, ensuring the seeds have been sown at a good However, getting the most out of Luximo will always start with cultural controls – delayed sowing and stale seedbeds are essential Use spring crops where you need them.

Weed control in a no-till system

“I understand why Tom wouldn’t plow – it would undo all the hard work he put in – but in conventional systems good plowing has been shown to remove up to 90% of blackgrass. It should also be noted that poor plowing can be worse than doing nothing.

Jonnie acknowledges that while there are downsides to no-till in terms of weed control – for example, difficulty in getting residual products to reach the target – there are also upsides: “With Tom’s care and attention to the health of the soil, he eliminated his plow pan and reached deep drainage.As the foxtail thrives in wet conditions, from this point of view, Tom’s approach will be beneficial for grass control.

“There is also an advantage to crop competition. With better soils and better drainage, he has healthier plants that will also help his control of foxtail.

“At the end of the day, Tom, like all producers, walks a fine line and balances a wide variety of, sometimes conflicting, goals.”

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