Evaluation of pre-emergence herbicides for weed control in maize
Weed management is an ongoing constraint in southern Africa for conventional farming systems and in emerging conservation agriculture systems, which are more heavily reliant on herbicides for primary weed control. The challenge of rising labour costs and decreasing availability creates a greater need to develop effective and efficient weed management methods in key crops such as maize. Field experiments were conducted at Sebele Agricultural Research Station, Botswana in the 2011/12 and 2012/13 cropping seasons to evaluate pre-emergence application of atrazine at 1,000 and 2,000 g a.i. ha-1 and S-metolachlor at 1,440 and 2,880 g a.i. ha-1, and a tank mixture of atrazine at 1,000 and S-metolachlor at 1,440 g a.i. ha-1. Atrazine at either rate alone, effectively controlled annual broadleaf weeds: Acanthospermum hispidum, Datura ferox and Sesamum alatum, but failed to control annual grass weeds (Tragus berteronianus and Urochloa spp.). Conversely, sole application of S-metolachlor at either rate provided complete control of annual grass weeds, but poorly controlled annual broadleaf weeds except small-seeded Amaranthus hybridus and Amaranthus thunbergii. A tank mixture of atrazine and S-metolachlor provided broad-spectrum weed control and successfully controlled both annual broadleaf and grass weeds. Atrazine alone and in tank mixture with S-metolachlor significantly reduced annual broadleaf weed density and biomass and increased maize grain yield by more than 80% when compared with the weedy treatment. High weed density and biomass of annual broadleaf weeds in S-metolachlor treatments significantly reduced maize grain yield to levels similar to the weedy treatment. A pre-mixture of atrazine and S-metolachlor is recommended for broad-spectrum weed control. Using a combination of herbicides with different modes of action may reduce selection pressure for herbicide resistance.