Herbicide planning for 2023 looks more ‘normal’

Farmers had a challenging year in 2022 for weed infestations because of a late planting season and dryness, especially in central and southern South Dakota. Kevin Erikson, lead sales representative for Wilbur-Ellis at Salem, South Dakota, discusses recommendations for grappling with weeds, including herbicide resistance, and year-end chemical and fertilizer purchases.

Kevin Erikson, lead sales agronomist for Wilbur-Ellis Company Inc., at its Salem, South Dakota, location, from November to Jan. 1 2023, will meet with most of his clients so they can budget crop seed, fertilizer, chemical and application costs to more effectively market grain. He counsels an energetic pre-emergent herbicide strategy for countering herbicide-resistant weeds. Photo taken Nov. 4, 2022, at Salem, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
We are part of The Trust Project.

SALEM, South Dakota — As winter sets in, Kevin Erikson is busy helping clients in his corner of the world make what he calls “Plan A and Plan B” to counter herbicide-resistance weeds.

“Layers of residual chemistries is the best way to control our waterhemp,” said Erikson, lead sales agronomist for Wilbur-Ellis Inc., at the company’s Salem, South Dakota, site. The company offers seed, chemical, fertilizer and application, through numerous locations in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and beyond.

A sign directs trucks where to deliver at an agronomy location, including office, beneath a wave-like cloud formation
Wilbur-Ellis Inc. purchased the Lacey’s Farmacy Inc. site in 2015 and runs it as a full-service, with dry fertilizer, a large liquid fertilizer facility, seed blending/treatment and chemistry. The site has nine full time employees, including three sales people and operations. Photo taken Nov. 4, 2022, at Salem, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Plan A is putting pre-emergent herbicides down in the late fall.

Plan B is using a spring applied pre-emergent herbicide, and layering “residual” herbicides at time of post-emergent spraying.

The Salem location covers clients primarily in a 30- to 40-mile radius. Wilbur-Ellis has numerous locations in the Dakotas and Minnesota. About two-thirds of Erikson’s clients will have sat down for a planning meeting before Jan. 1. So far, planning “seems pretty normal,” despite ongoing world turmoil.


This year, farms are in a decent financial position, despite a drought in the southern areas where drought-struck corn yielded 50 bushels per acre. Crop insurance helped to plan normally for 2023, he said.

Some input prices are up somewhat in 2023, but not like the jump from 2021 to 2022.

Farmers start planning for 2023 seed, chemical and fertilizer needs in November and December 2022. Supplies appear to be more “normal” than expected during the planning for the 2022 crop. Photo courtesy Wilbur-Ellis Company, Inc. taken in January 2015.
Courtesy / Wilbur-Ellis Company, Inc

“We feel that supply (of inputs) is going to be easier this year, but one disruption in the chain could change that a whole bunch,” Erikson said.

“I try to make them plan from the fall fertilizer to the post- (harvest) spray — even through the possible plant health, which would be a fungicide to a micronutrient, to improve plant health and increase yield potential,” he said. “We try to go through from A to Z on the plans.”

Some growers pay for everything up-front. Some don’t. But once the plan is in their budget, farmers can start forward-marketing grain, based on what their input costs are going to be, he said.

In 2022 farmers were concerned about chemical availability. Many started trying to nail down supplies in August and September of 2021. Erikson and his colleagues spent a lot of time watching the supply chain for atrazine, glyphosate and glufosinate.

“We tried to put a ‘calm’ in the industry,” Erikson said. “And, to be honest, 2022 went without a hitch. We never had a point where we ran out of the chemistries. Did we shift some product and change some things? Yes. We moved to ‘Chemical B’ instead of ‘A,’ because we could get that. But we were able to cover the acres.”

Farmers and suppliers preparing for 2023 are feeling more “normal” about chemical supplies.


Agronomy is local

Wilbur-Ellis is global, based in San Francisco, and describes itself as one of the largest family-owned companies in the world, pegging annual revenue at about $3 billion.

But Erikson’s work world is local and personal — steeped in generations of connections, and surviving together from day-to-day weather as well as storms like last summer’s derecho wind storm. Erikson describes how Wilbur-Ellis lost some warehouse doors and some legs in their fertilizer plant, but can get emotional when describing the community damage in Salem, a town of about 1,300 people, about 30 miles west of Sioux Falls. Erikson himself grew up on a family farm at Canova, South Dakota, population 92, about 12 miles to the north.

Erikson interned with the family-owned Lacey’s Farmacy at Salem in 1983. He studied ag business at Lake Area Technical College at Watertown, South Dakota, and then farmed for a decade full time until his father retired in 1998. He then shifted into agronomy posts at a local co-op and finally, he went back to Lacey’s, which was sold to Wilbur-Ellis in 2015.

An orange forklift moves agricultural chemicals in a warehouse.
Agronomists with Wilbur-Ellis Company Inc. counsel farmer-clients to take on herbicide-resistant weeds with a combination of products of different “modes of operation,” as well as pre-emergent, layered applications. File photo from 2018.
Courtesy / Wilbur-Ellis Company Inc.

Erikson acknowledges he and other herbicide input suppliers urge farmers to use early-order programs, which can provide cost savings and assure acquiring needed herbicides.

Yes, he acknowledges, pre-purchases are good for the sellers, but it only works, long-run, if it works for the growers.

The waterhemp foe

In Erikson’s neck of the woods, herbicide-resistant waterhemp is the farmer’s big nemesis. (Erikson literally knocked on wood when he said his clients aren’t yet facing the dreaded Palmer amaranth weed, which has taken hold in states to the south and skipped up to infestation sites in North Dakota.)

He estimates that somewhere between two-thirds to 90% of his producers are using multiple-layers of residual herbicides to confront waterhemp herbicide resistance.

Erikson’s reasoning is that after weeds emerge, weather becomes a big factor.


“Weeds grow quickly, and if it's raining or too windy for (post-emergent) herbicide application, you can easily miss your window for good control,” he said

He thinks that 10% to 15% of clients do these fall herbicide applications. That percentage is rising every year. In 2022, a hard freeze in October, however, sent some weeds into dormancy before farmers in the area could hit them with that herbicide — 2, 4-D or dicamba — which gets the chemistry down into the roots..

Erikson would like to see more acres covered to get a layer of protection that lays dormant to confront the flush of “winter annuals” in the spring. Farmers can safely, effectively put down a 2, 4-D and a pre-emerge like Panther (a generic Valor) until snow or freeze-up, he said.

Many farmers strategically use tillage to keep weeds in check, but must factor in labor and equipment costs. The decision about tillage is a “balancing act,” that involves evaluations of soil health and moisture conservation.

 A man in a Wilbur-Ellis jacket stands, flanked by his office with recognition from the FFA and a computer screen.
Kevin Erikson is lead sales agronomist for Wilbur-Elllis Company Inc. at its Salem, South Dakota, location. Erickson has farmed or been in the agronomy business since he interned at the same location in 1983, when it was the family-owned Lacey’s Farmacy Inc. Photo taken Nov. 4, 2022, at Salem, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

No half measures

Erikson advises farmers to use the full, labeled rates of herbicides with optimum spray coverage when weeds are small and actively growing. This avoids weed “seed set” and promotes herbicide uptake.

Erikson also advises clients to use a “burn-down” treatment — even prior to seeding. Again, timing is weather-dependent.  Farmers are planting earlier these days, he said.  A burn-down is more effective when nighttime temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, because the weeds are actively growing, which pulls the herbicide into the roots.

 “To do it before (seeding), you don’t disturb the weeds that are there, so they’re easier to kill,” Erikson said. With “most burn-downs, you’re under the gun to beat the emerging crop out of the ground. I like to go early (but) if it’s too cool, you wait a little while.”

Joe Ikely, a North Dakota State University Extension Service weed specialist, is one scientist who recommends the burn-down come after seeding.

Erikson urges clients to “layer-in” their pre-emergent herbicides, using “a minimum of two — ideally three” — different “modes of action” (or MOA). Three or more MOAs throughout the season work best to counter herbicide resistance, he said.

Post-emergent, or “in-season,” weed  control should include a “contact herbicide” to catch anything that escaped the pre-emergent treatments, he said.

“Then we add another layer of residual product, in tank-mix to keep in-season weeds from emerging,” Erikson said.

This is especially important for waterhemp which can emerge late in the season, after post-emergent treatments have been made.

In late 2021, farmers were concerned they might not have herbicides to control weeds in 2022. After covering all of their acres somehow in 2022, farmers and suppliers are more confident about availability in 2023 and don’t expect as big a price bump, according to Kevin Erikson, a lead sales agronomist at Wilbur-Ellis Company Inc.
Courtesy / Wilbur-Ellis Company Inc.

2019 affects 2023

Erikson said his clients in reality still deal with effects from 2019 — an  extremely wet year when commercial application companies often couldn’t get into fields and tillage was delayed.

“We saw an uptick of all the ‘trouble weeds’ — Canada thistle, waterhemp, marestail (also known as horseweed),” Erikson said. “The land sat idle, without any chemistry. Now we had a ‘weed (seed) bank’ that built up that we’d made progress on and we got back to ground zero."

After a few years of cropping, farmers were starting to get more in control of the situation, he said.

“Since it’s turned dry on us in 2021 and 2022, we’re farming 100% of the fields, which is a lot of low ground, which is where the weeds are,” Erikson said. These spots grow weeds that shed seed. “It’s taken a lot of extra management to get them under control.”

Weed seeds can remain viable for years, of course. In 2022, Erikson said, he was very concerned about whether it would be too dry for herbicide activity.

“We were fortunate,” Erikson said, of the 2022 growing season. “We caught just enough (rain) to activate the ‘pre’s’ (emergence herbicides.) Overall we did pretty well with the drought,  keeping the weeds under control. In some cases even weeds didn’t emerge in some areas, however, because it was too dry."

Erikson thinks ungerminated weed seeds will be there, waiting for 2023.

The goal with chemicals is 100% control, but most chemistries have a label that indicates 70%, 80% or 90% control. He said the “best chance” for keeping weeds under control is tillage or pre-emergence chemicals. Most chemicals labels recommend using them on weeds that are less than 2 or 3 inches tall.

Often, weather interrupts things.

“All of a sudden 2- to 3-inch weeds” have suddenly grown to “5- to 6-inch weeds. You just can’t get enough chemistry on the growing points to take ‘em out,” he said.

Often, farmers are spraying when the weeds are too big to easily control. The term is  “revenge spraying,” which is, as Erikson summarizes, “Not effective.”

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
What To Read Next
David Karki of SDSU underlined that planting cover crops like rye is not so much about big yield increases, but it will make the land more tolerant of fluctuations in weather.
Navigator CO2 Ventures is hoping to streamline the application process in Illinois as they add an additional pipeline to the mix.
Rod Burkard now has the opportunity to compete in August at the national event in Pennsylvania.
Benson and Turner Foods will process cattle and hogs at Waubun, Minnesota, on the White Earth Reservation with the help of a USDA grant.