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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Jan 22;272(1559):111-9.

Management of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant sugar beet for spring and autumn environmental benefit.

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Broom's Barn Research Station, Higham, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP28 6NP, UK.


When used in genetically modified herbicide-tolerant (GMHT) crops, glyphosate provides great flexibility to manipulate weed populations with consequences for invertebrates and higher trophic levels, for example birds. A range of timings of band and overall spray treatments of glyphosate to GMHT sugar beet were compared with a conventional weed control programme in four field trials over 2 years. Single overall sprays applied between 200 and 250 accumulated day degrees (above a base air temperature of 3 degrees C; degrees Cd) and band applied treatments applied at 10% or 20% ground cover within the crop rows generally gave significantly greater weed biomass and seed rain than conventional treatments, while later band sprays (more than 650 degrees Cd) reduced seed return. Two overall sprays of glyphosate produced low weed biomass and generally lowest seed return of all treatments but tended to give some of the highest yields. However, the early overall sprays (200-250 degrees Cd) and band sprays gave as good or better yields than the conventional and were generally equivalent to the two overall-spray programme. Viable seeds in the soil after the experiment were generally higher following the early overall (200-250 degrees Cd) and the band spray treatments than following the conventional. The results show that altered management of GMHT sugar beet can provide alternative scenarios to those of the recent Farm Scale Evaluation trials. Without yield loss they can enhance weed seed banks and autumn bird food availability compared with conventional management, or provide early season benefits to invertebrates and nesting birds, depending on the system chosen. Conventional weed control does not have the flexibility to enable these scenarios that benefit both agriculture and environment, although there may be some options for increasing weed seed return in autumn.

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