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KHEM Farms’ harvest outside Rosalia.
Photo by Erin Lundt

PROFILES

New product targets some familiar weeds

BioWest Ag Solutions

March 2021

Being “in the weeds” is seldom a good thing, and there’s a new product on the market that could help get farmers out of them.

BioWest Ag Solutions, based in Caldwell, Idaho, is marketing a new bioherbicide based on research done by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service soil scientist Ann Kennedy, who worked in Pullman, Wash., before she retired. The product targets cheatgrass (also known as downy brome), medusahead and jointed goatgrass.

Drew Lyon, weed scientist at Washington State University, said out of the three weeds, cheatgrass is the biggest problem Eastern Washington farmers face. He said for the last two decades, farmers have been able to control it pretty well with post emergence applications, but resistant populations are appearing. Jointed goatgrass, while not as widespread as cheatgrass, is still found throughout the region, and medusahead has been found in Eastern Washington, especially near the Idaho border, but it isn’t currently a big problem for wheat farmers.

“Cheatgrass is one that is on everybody’s radar because it’s so widespread, and they are having difficulties controlling it with products that used to work,” Lyon said. “Everybody is aware of jointed goatgrass, and medusahead is something to watch out for.”

Brett Huse, a consultant with BioWest Ag Solutions, answered a few questions provided by Wheat Life to better acquaint growers with the company and their new product.

Tell readers a little bit about BioWest Ag Solutions.

BioWest Ag Solutions has provided liquid fertility products and services for more than 30 years. BioWest manufactures biologically based fertility and specific-use microbial products to growers across the western U.S. We also provide crop consulting services, fertility management plans and deliver our products directly to our customers. Our approach combines our formulations and practices with conventional fertilizers to revitalize the biodiversity of soil, increase water-holding capacity, increase plant-nutrient uptake and stimulate plant growth.

You recently received approval for a new bioherbicide from the Environmental Protection Agency. What is a “bioherbicide?”

Bioherbicides are biologically based control agents for weed suppression. In contrast, herbicides are synthetic compounds used to inhibit weeds. Bioherbicides are microbes such as fungi, bacteria (such as our product, Battalion Pro) or other organisms. Bioherbicides can also be compounds derived from microbes, phytotoxic plant residues, extracts or plant species.

What is this bioherbicide, and what makes it unique?

Battalion Pro contains the naturally occurring soil bacterium, Pseudomonas fluorescens strain ACK55, that suppresses the growth of the invasive annual grass weeds cheatgrass/downy brome, medusahead and jointed goatgrass. This product suppresses weed roots during the winter when the weed is increasing its competitive root growth. The product inhibits weed root elongation, and the weed is not able to produce the roots needed for water and nutrient uptake. Battalion Pro works at the seed bank level by suppressing seedling growth and killing the seedling.

Most synthetic herbicides work at the plant level and do not affect the seed bank of the weed. They are also more expensive and require annual applications.

How does Battalion Pro work?

The bacterium inhibits the growth of cheatgrass/downy brome, medusahead and jointed goatgrass. It does no harm to economically important plants nor does it injure any native plant species. The bacterium works at the seed bank level, inhibits root growth and tiller initiation of these weeds. Battalion Pro suppresses weed roots at a time when the weed is increasing its competitive root growth. It is a novel means to reduce the invasive weeds.

How and when is it applied?

Battalion Pro is applied from late fall through early spring. Mid-October is usually the earliest that application of Battalion Pro could begin. Air temperatures need to be cool. Soil needs to be moist with rain or a moisture event in the near forecast, such as frost thaw with moist soil. Battalion Pro can be applied aerially, by ground rig, through irrigation or soil incorporation and can piggyback with most herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, fertilizers or seed coatings. Battalion Pro can be sprayed over existing crop or desirable plant foliage. There are no plant-back restrictions for reseeding crops or desirable plants. BioWest crop consultants will be available to help make further decisions about application.

What do you anticipate is the long-term effectiveness of Battalion Pro?

Research field studies showed that application of Battalion Pro resulted in almost complete suppression of these annual grass weeds five to six years after application, when the application guidelines are followed, and desirable plants (winter wheat, perennial bunchgrasses, natives) were present to over canopy and further reduce growth of existing weed plants. Additional applications of the product may be needed in three to six years to ensure success. An integrated weed management approach including the bacteria, herbicides and a healthy crop is recommended for success.

Is this a product made with genetic engineering?

Battalion Pro’s active ingredient is a naturally occurring bacterium. No genetic modifications are used in the development or production of Battalion Pro. Battalion Pro was selected from the existing microbial populations in soil.

There’s a lot of attention right now on pesticide safety. What are the safety concerns of this bioherbicide, both in application and over the long term?

Battalion Pro is a naturally occurring bacterium selected to inhibit the three weeds and cause no harm to any other living things. It is at a near neutral pH. There are no plant-back restrictions for reseeding an area. No residual herbicide is present in the soil solution with this bioherbicide. Minimal personal protection equipment and a short worker re-entry period are required. Safety precautions should always be used when applying any product for agriculture or rangeland.

Are there environmental concerns with this bioherbicide?

The product does not harm native plants, crops or living organisms. The product has no residual, a zero preharvest interval and no plant-back restrictions. Battalion Pro does not maintain high numbers during the growing season as it is a cold-loving organism. It has a short re-entry period after application. We recommend that there be no grazing for 24 hours after application. This grazing recommendation is not because Battalion Pro will harm the animals, but so the product gets into the soil where it needs to be to work.

How do you see wheat farmers using this product?

Battalion Pro can be easily integrated into fall seeding of wheat or fall and early spring working of fields to successfully reduce the three weeds within three to six years. Battalion Pro can be applied throughout the winter and into early spring if proper climatic conditions are present and certain practices are used. Battalion Pro is cost effective and can be applied every three years. The crop consultant and producer can discuss and decide upon further use of Battalion Pro.

Has this been used much in Eastern Washington, and what kind of results have you seen?

For more than 20 years, annual field studies with Battalion Pro were established in central and Eastern Washington. The first field studies established the application requirements of this bioherbicide. Once the application requirements (cool air temperature, overcast skies, wet soil, moisture event in forecast) were met, Battalion Pro was successful at reducing cheatgrass/downy brome, medusahead and jointed goatgrass populations to below economic levels in three to six years. Battalion Pro and wheat crop or Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) can compete with the three weeds and reduce their presence to below economic levels. The bacterium suppresses seedling growth in the seed bank and the crop or CRP competes with weeds for soil, water and light. Often, after some time, the three weeds are no longer found in the weed-seed bank.

Producers who are interested in learning more about BioWest Ag Solutions can visit their website at biowest.ag. Growers can also contact Brett Huse at bhuse@biowest.ag or (208) 2221-4515.