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Seedhead Suppression Helps Keep Georgia Roads And Workers Safe Plateau Herbicide Contributes To Less Mowing And Cost Savings

With an abundance that may even rival Georgia's more famous crops, bermudagrass is a perennial, warm-season grass that blankets roadsides throughout the state. Because it permits drainage to keep roadways clear of puddles and stays green throughout most of the spring and summer, bermudagrass is a prime contributor to keeping Georgia's roadsides beautiful. But, because bermudagrass grows rapidly and can withstand a wide range of weather conditions, it can quickly grow to clog roadsides, prevent water runoff and inhibit driver visibility if left uncontrolled.

 

To manage the plant's potential negative impacts in roadway areas, bermudagrass requires suppressive treatment, or seedhead suppression, to keep growth under control. While mowing has traditionally been the quick and easy answer to suppress the plant's growth, today's roadside vegetation managers are increasingly exploring more cost-effective options for regulating the growth of bermudagrass. In particular, the use of selective herbicides has become a popular alternative to repeat mowing operations.
 

The state of Georgia, in particular, has spent several years exploring the benefits and impacts of combining two popular suppressive treatments, (mowing and selective herbicides) into an integrated vegetation management program to control bermudagrass. Working with experts such as Dr. Tim Murphy from the University of Georgia and BASF BetterVM, Ray Dorsey and Juanita Hullett have led Georgia's efforts to suppress bermudagrass on nearly 30,000 miles of state highways. Over the last seven years, Dorsey and his colleagues have used a combination of selective herbicides and traditional mowing to save GADOT money, manpower and time.
 

Making the Change
 

When Dorsey joined Georgia's DOT in 1997, the state had relied on a traditional bermudagrass treatment program for nearly 15 years. The program included four to six mowings per year, and six to eight herbicide applications. Spraying season lasted from January to November, with mowings throughout spring and summer. Because bermudagrass and other roadside weeds were showing tolerance to the program, Dorsey felt it was losing credibility in the eyes of the public and his colleagues.
 

“We realized it was time to look at the program and reevaluate our options,” Dorsey said. “We knew there had to be a better way to accomplish our goals.”
 

After consulting with Dr. Tim Murphy, weed science specialist at the University of Georgia, Dorsey began exploring the benefits of Plateau® herbicide, a selective herbicide from BASF BetterVM. The product fit well with Georgia's needs, because Plateau suppresses seedhead growth on both bermudagrass and bahiagrass, eliminates undesirable grass weeds such as Johnsongrass, vaseygrass and crabgrass, and releases desirable bermudagrass – all with minimal discoloration or negative impacts sometimes associated with other herbicides when applied at labeled use rates.
 

Starting with Hullett's management region in southern Georgia and gradually moving north, the GADOT tested Plateau in roadside areas for about one year, from 1998 to 1999. Dorsey and his team saw fast results.
 

“For us, Plateau® herbicide was basically a chemical substitute for mowing – and that's what we started calling it, a chemical mowing herbicide,” Dorsey said. “The product was so effective at suppressing bermudagrass and bahiagrass, we were able to reduce mowings to around two per year.”
 

By 2002, the entire state of Georgia had converted to Plateau, using the product for seedhead suppression and roadside weed control in all 159 of its counties.
 

Cost Savings and Measurable Results
 

By adopting Plateau and reducing its reliance on mowing, GADOT has achieved significant cost savings.
 

“Our mowing cost today is about $37 per acre, which is almost a 50 percent savings from what we were paying before we started using Plateau in-between mowing treatments,” Dorsey said. “Using Plateau along with other herbicides for suppression and weed control has sent our herbicide costs down to around $10 per acre – another large decrease from what we were paying before.”

 

GADOT's cost decreases are also the result of a decrease from six to two mowings per year, and the ability to use less herbicide. Unlike GADOT's prior program, which used 42 ounces of MSMA (monosodium methanearsonate) per acre, Dorsey says the current program is successful using just 3 ounces of Plateau per acre.
 

“Today, we are applying less herbicide per acre, and we're also applying it much less often than before,” Dorsey said.
 

Fewer employees on fewer mowers has created a safer workforce for Georgia's DOT.
 

With over 50 applicators statewide, GADOT has a significant employee base. And improving safety for each Georgia state employee is a key goal for Dorsey and his department overall. Dorsey notes that using Plateau herbicide helps improve safety for Georgia's DOT by reducing the need for mowing, an operation that often comes with significant safety hazards.
 

Today's GADOT herbicide applicators have access to 50 boomless trucks with a 1,000- to 1,500-gallon capacity, which Dorsey says are much more permissible on roadsides than mowers.

 

“Compared to a mower, we can keep employees safer and out of traffic when they are driving a truck,” he said.
 

With such evident cost and manpower savings, the fact that GADOT is also saving time on its roadside vegetation-control efforts should come as little surprise. While GADOT's previous herbicide program required four or five applications every year, its current treatment program requires only one to two Plateau applications annually.

 

“We're seeing a lot of our savings in the way of time,” Dorsey said. “We're getting a much longer timeframe between applications. The frequency with which we had to apply the old herbicide was costing us excess time, money and manpower.”

 

The Future of Plateau in Georgia

 

Using Plateau for seedhead suppression has provided GADOT with significant cost savings, and impressive results. Based on the success the department has seen since 2002, Dorsey is confident that GADOT will continue to use Plateau.
 

“We are very pleased with this product,” Dorsey said. “There are a lot of pluses to Plateau, and we will definitely continue to use it.”
 

GADOT is also satisfied with the support it has received from BASF Professional Vegetation Management. Working with Dr. Tim Murphy of the University of Georgia and BASF BetterVM, GADOT has been able to make informed, forward-thinking decisions for suppressing bermudagrass on the state's roadsides.
 

“BASF BetterVM has been instrumental in helping us along the way,” Dorsey said.

 

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