Last summer, I spent a few days at a children's writing workshop. One creativity exercise involved a hike during which we were to gather a nature specimen and describe it.
The fact that I plucked common chickweed along the garden path shouldn't come as a big surprise. My dissertation (errr ... description) began: "It's a winter annual easily controlled by fall or early-spring burndown herbicides. It can form dense mats that can slow drying and warming of soil in the spring. It is one of several winter annuals that can serve as an alternative host for soybean cyst nematode (SCN) ... "
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I looked up during this delivery to see the dazed looks and frowns on the faces of other workshop participants. Oops, leave it to an ag journalist to literally get lost in the weeds. Yeah, I might have listed the best herbicide tank mixes for control, too.
In agriculture, we often see invaders as threats, and we take them seriously. In this issue, you'll find articles detailing some longtime troublemakers such as Western corn rootworm and soybean white mold.
We've taken a lot of space to talk about SCN since it sneakily robs soybean growers of yield each year. And, as a recent survey by DTN shows, we are falling short on the "take-the-test, beat-the-pest" challenge. Our polls showed 40% of respondents have never soil-sampled for SCN, the first and very critical step in fighting back.
However, one thing we also discovered writing this special issue focused on crop invaders is they aren't all bad guys. In fact, some of these invaders do good work and even lend themselves to fairly descriptive terms. Prepare to go "ewwww" when you read about "liquefied larval guts" in Emily Unglesbee's article on beneficial nematodes that invade corn rootworms ("Invasion of the Rootworm Snatchers," on page 8).
For all of these articles, we leaned heavily on scientists working on the many good, bad and very interesting invading pests in agriculture today. Farmers may sometimes question the practicality of research, but the passion and pursuit of answers by university and public scientists really show when new invaders such as soybean gall midge, tar spot, cotton leafroll dwarf virus and others come to call. Finding answers to these complex problems is far from simple or absolute.
Another thing we realize is that we've barely scratched the surface of all the invaders farmers face each year. I've got a laundry list of "we need to cover" topics leftover.
If we didn't include a pest or problem that's been particularly vexing to you, let us know. As service journalists, that's what we love to do -- dig in and invade topics that matter.
> Email Pamela Smith at email@example.com.
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