Ray Walker says he grew up chopping cotton and pulling bolls into a sack. But enough was enough.
When he bought a place west of Frederick, OK, in 1973 he sowed it to grass and made it a ranch.
Today, as Walker Land & Cattle Company, Walker and his son, Kent, operate a commercial and seedstock Angus operation. They also offer Longhorn replacement heifers.
But ranching in cotton country has its challenges.
One challenge is managing pasture weeds while staying on friendly terms with cotton-growing neighbors. Last year, the Walkers found a better way to do both.
Historically, in cotton communities, farmers worry about the potential for damage to the crop from nearby applications of 2,4-D herbicide or any product containing 2,4-D.
Spray drift during application is the biggest worry, but herbicides with some formulations of 2,4-D or dicamba can also volatilize—form vapors after application that can move in a breeze. Some counties restrict the spraying of 2,4-D after a certain date.
One of those counties is Tillman County, OK, where the Walkers have both irrigated bermudagrass and dryland native range. And cotton. “Kent got us back into it,” Ray says dryly.
April 30 is their cutoff date for spraying pastures with 2,4-D or any herbicide in the phenoxy family.
“Late April is early to spray a lot of things. Silverleaf nightshade is a weed that’s been eating our sack lunch,” Ray says.
New dawn for nightshade
“Nightshades will come up through May, and, with irrigation, they’ll come up through the summer,” Kent explains. “Thousands have gone to seed.”
The Walkers’ only option, or so they thought, was to spray before the cutoff and then mow weeds, like silverleaf nightshade, that came up later. “Or we put up with them and just cussed them,” Ray says. Neither option helped their pastures much.
Last year, after the cutoff date, Ray visited with Dow AgroSciences Range & Pasture Specialist Jodie Stockett who suggested another option: Chaparral™ herbicide.
Chaparral does not contain 2,4-D. It’s not a phenoxy; it’s excellent on the nightshade family among many other weeds; and it’s practically nonvolatile. It also provides soil residual activity to control weeds that emerge for a time after spraying. And the use of Chaparral was not restricted after the cutoff date. Still, any herbicide can be susceptible to drift if it’s caught by the wind.
So, in early June, Ray did the application himself, using a low-set boom sprayer, low pressure and utmost caution on a quarter section under pivot irrigation. He sprayed two other pastures in mid-July.
He applied Chaparral at the labeled rate of 2.5 ounces per acre in 12 gallons of water with surfactant.
Right time, right result
“Within a couple hours, the nightshades were turning down,” Ray says. “Chaparral gave us good control through the summer.”
And the herbicide stayed where intended and controlled more than nightshade. “We had no drift whatsoever,” Kent says. “And it did a tremendous job on pigweed.”
Broadleaf weeds noticeably decrease grass production in their dryland native pastures, Kent says, but less so in their irrigated bermudagrass. Under pivots, nightshades pose a different problem.
“We’ll have grass ungrazed under the nightshade, and the cows will overgraze around it. They’ll grub that grass to the ground, and we’ll get big old rank grass in the weeds,” he says. “By spraying, everything is more evenly grazed.”
Timely weed control makes that much easier, the Walkers contend. And it makes for cleaner hay when they take a hay crop.
“When you have restrictions like we have, this is the thing. Spraying in April for us is really too early. Chaparral will let us wait another 30 days to spray,” Ray says.
“It’s changed our program on this grass. If we get a big cover of weeds early, we may knock those down with 2,4-D, but otherwise we’ll wait.”
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