Paraquat can be used to improve the species composition of pastures for livestock grazing and reduce the carryover of grass weed seeds into following cereal crops. The technique used is known as spray-topping.
Rotation of grass pastures for sheep and other livestock with wheat is a common cropping system in Australia. Spray-topping with paraquat is used to control problem grass weeds such as barley grass (Hordeum glaucum and H. leporinum) and annual ryegrass (Lolium rigidum).
Why spray-top?
Spray-topping involves spraying paraquat at a low rate to prevent the setting of viable seed1,2. The species composition of a pasture is important for maximum livestock productivity. Weed grasses are of inferior nutritional value; compete with desirable species; are hosts for pests and diseases; and can even be harmful to livestock. For example, the awned seeds of barley grass can damage sheep’s eyes and contaminate wool3; annual ryegrass is the main host for the seed-gall nematode (Anguina funesta) that carries a toxin-producing bacterium (Rathayibacter toxicus) into the seed heads4. To minimise problems with annual ryegrass toxicity, spray-topping should be done as early as possible to prevent the formation of the nematode galls.
Weeds do not hit the headlines like droughts, insect plagues or even swine flu, but cause substantial human misery, quietly and constantly, notes one of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) most renowned weed experts. Ricardo Labrada-Romero quotes figures produced by leading environmental organisation Landcare Research (New Zealand) which indicate that uncontrolled weeds cause crop losses equivalent to 380 million tonnes of wheat every year. When FAO reckon that more than one billion people in the world are hungry, this has a huge impact.
In terms of farmland needed to grow such a quantity of wheat, using a worldwide average yield of 2.8 tonnes per hectare (FAO, 2007 estimate), this equates to a staggering 135 million hectares (335 million acres), an area twice the size of France, wasted for food production.
Weeds cause most crop losses*
Equivalent Wheat Land Lost
                               (million ha)
Weeds                         135
Diseases                     121
Knowing how a herbicide works in detail - its 'mode of action' (MOA) - is important to understanding how to use it most effectively. Herbicide MOA is a major factor in weed control spectrum, crop selectivity and weed resistance.
Herbicides control weeds by interfering with how they grow. Different MOAs all ultimately either stop seeds from germinating or establishing as seedlings; prevent plants from making essential carbohydrates, proteins or lipids (oils and fats); or desiccate leaves and stems.
Paraquat’s MOA involves diverting the flow of energy captured from sunlight in photosynthesis to produce highly reactive free radicals which destroy cell membranes to quickly desiccate leaves. This happens within hours in bright sunlight because of the high levels of energy running out of control. Almost all green plants are affected by paraquat making it a broad-spectrum, non-selective herbicide. You can read more and watch a video showing how paraquat works by clicking here.
Mode of action fact file 280+ herbicide active ingredients
20+ herbicide MOAs
1980s: last new MOA introduced
1 MOA in one field spells trouble
Herbicides control weeds by interfering with how they grow. This is achieved by a number of different ‘modes of action’ (MOA) which all either ultimately stop seeds from germinating or establishing as seedlings; prevent plants from making essential carbohydrates, proteins or lipids (oils and fats); or desiccate leaves and stems. Knowing a herbicide MOA is important to understanding how to use a herbicide most effectively. It is a major factor in both herbicide selectivity and weed resistance.
The symptoms observed on weeds sprayed with herbicides express the MOA. In herbicide R&D, when new chemicals are screened experts carefully observe the detail and timing of the appearance of symptoms to gain clues as to the MOA. Fully understanding a MOA may take years of research by plant physiologists, biochemists, molecular biologists and many other scientific disciplines. The precise MOA of paraquat is very well understood - for more information, click here.
Integrated weed management and no-till are advanced agronomic tools with common aims to improve efficiency and profitabilty, while reducing the environmental impact of crop production. Although advanced in concept, these tools are straightforward and can be adapted for use in all cropping systems, from highly mechanised ones to subsistence farming, all around the world.
Tillage is a well proven means of controlling weeds, so are other methods good enough to use in an integrated approach to weed management in no-till systems? This article examines how farmers can reap the rewards of both techniques together.
Farmers around the world know just how hard it is to control weeds. They tend to come back with a vengance, especially when the many elements causing weed problems have not been appreciated and addressed. Aiming to manage weeds rather than control them is not only more realistic, but if Integrated Weed Management (IWM) is applied properly, it can reduce costs, protect the soil, and support pest and disease control.
No-till systems also provide economic and environmental advantages. However, in no-till, the traditional means of weed management by ploughing to prepare a field for cropping is not used. Plowing, even though it effectively removes weeds by burial, is costly, time consuming, and can cause soil erosion and compaction.
Paraquat is used to control a huge range of weeds worldwide, but to control weeds effectively and sustainably it is important to understand them.
Why does a plant become a weed? How can different types of weeds be described? What are the features of weeds and the way they grow which can be targeted by herbicides for successful control? Why is paraquat such a useful tool for farmers?
What are weeds?
Weeds are usually described as unwanted plants.  Weeds grow on arable land which is waiting to be planted and then a new flush of weed seedlings emerge with the crop.  In perennial crops like fruit, vines, rubber and oil palm, weeds grow continuously with new growth prompted by the weather and changing seasons.
Weeds are unwanted for many reasons: They compete with crop plants for sunlight, water and soil nutrients, reducing yields and quality.
They may provide a habitat for pests and diseases from which these can attack the crop.
Large, climbing or spiny weeds can make it difficult to get into the crop for pest and disease control, fertilizer application, harvesting and other operations.
In Asia alone, more than two billion people obtain over 60% of their calories from rice. It is the most rapidly growing source of food in Africa and is critical to food security. Long grain rices are typically of the indica race and include the fragrant Jasmine rice from Thailand and Basmati rice from India. Short grain rice, typically japonica, is usually more sticky than long grain and is favoured in Japan. Saki rice is grown in Japan to make rice wine, and in Indonesia there are red and black grained varieties. About 80% of the world's rice is grown by smallholders in these places. In Asia, women are often responsible for rice farming as men have moved to work in the cities.
Efficient and productive rice-based production systems are essential for economic development and for improved quality of life for much of the world's population. Plant breeding, crop protection, water management and fertilization have increased productivity and reduced the costs of production.
Will farming and soil quality collide?
World Agriculture and the Environment is an important new book addressing the fear that increasing demand for food and fiber is on a “collision course” with soil quality.
This article is in two parts. In Part One, some of the main issues discussed in the book are reviewed. Part Two then explains how more than 50 years of research and practical use have shown that controlling weeds with paraquat can help provide improved and sustainable crop management practices to improve soil quality.
Part One: What ‘World Agriculture and the Environment’ says
In World Agriculture and the Environment authorJason Clay (World Wildlife Fund-US vice president, Center for Conservation Innovation) reviews the production and environmental impact of 21 of the world’s major food commodities. The main threats to the environment posed by crops, fish and meat are identified and explored, as well as the trends that shape those threats.
Major Issues
Extensive long-term field studies confirm - and governments and regulatory authorities, worldwide, agree - that normal use of paraquat in accordance with the approved label instructions does not cause an unacceptable environmental impact.
These studies have shown that:
Paraquat is inactive in soil
When paraquat residues come into contact with the soil the paraquat active ingredient rapidly becomes adsorbed and strongly bound to clay and organic matter in the soil. It becomes biologically inert and as a result it cannot be taken up by plant roots or other organisms. Paraquat treated soils still maintain an active soil ecosystem with no adverse effects on soil microbes, microorganisms and earthworms. Paraquat cannot be released from the soil or re-activated by the application of water or other agrochemicals.
All agricultural soils, not only those with high clay content, have a high capacity to absorb paraquat.
Mr. Prasanna Srinivasan of New Dehli, India, is a recognized expert in the field of economics, policy and regulatory development and specializes in the impact of global environmental treaties on developing countries. Syngenta commissioned Mr. Srinivasan to provide a balanced assessment of the benefits and risks of pesticides in general and paraquat in particular. Mr. Srinivasan recently completed this review entitled, “Paraquat: A unique contributor to agriculture and sustainable development.
Please click on this link to download a copy of the review:
Paraquat: A Unique Contributor to Agriculture and Sustainable Development