Weed Fight

Nation's Farmers Find a Common Enemy in Herbicide-Resistant Weeds

Weeds clog the rows of a soybean field in central Pennsylvania. The region's farmers are facing the same herbicide-resistant fight as their brethren in the Midwest and South. (DTN photo by Emily Unglesbee)

LANCASTER, Penn. (DTN) -- The group of farmers, ag retailers, crop consultants, company reps and scientists that met Wednesday in southeastern Pennsylvania represent a special slice of agriculture.

They spoke of the benefit of rotating grains with lima beans and other specialty crops. They traded tips on growing vegetables for fresh market sales versus processing. They voiced the challenges of farming in an area where crop fields can change hands and sprout suburban condos in a matter of months.

Yet what brought these mid-Atlantic ag stakeholders together -- the growing scourge of herbicide-resistant weeds -- aligns them with every farmer in the country from the Western fruit grower to the Midwestern row cropper and the Southern peanut farmer.

That's why the Weed Science Society of America has decided to host a series of seven regional Herbicide Resistance Listening Sessions around the country this year. The meetings are designed to help agricultural leaders drill down on the most effective ways to combat the spread of weeds resistant to an array of herbicides, including glyphosate, ALS herbicides, and PPO herbicides. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, meeting was the second of seven such events scheduled this winter. (See DTN's story on the first, held in Starkville, Mississippi, here: http://bit.ly/…).

This meeting drew stakeholders from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Penn State weed scientist Bill Curran and other meeting leaders stood up and introduced themselves. Then, as the name of the meetings suggests, they put down the mike and listened to their guests.

"This is not your typical meeting," Curran explained. "Today you're going to be the teachers and we're the students. We want information from you ... The goals for the day are to leave with more knowledge about the barriers to managing herbicide-resistant weeds and what the opportunities are for doing a better job and how we can work together to realize this."

Some of the challenges raised by the meeting attendees included:

-- A scarcity of herbicide options for vegetable and specialty crop growers. "For vegetable growers, this is really tough to deal with because there is just no good chemistry to fight this," noted Luke McConnell, a crop consultant for the Delmarva and New Jersey region. Many growers in the mid-Atlantic region rotate to grains like corn and soybeans partly for access to a broader array of herbicide options to clean up fields, added Richard Wilkins, the president of the American Soybean Association and a grain and specialty crop farmer from Greenwood, Delaware.

-- Lost stewardship values when it comes to weed management. "We've forgotten what our grandfathers knew: Never let a weed go to seed on your farm," McConnell said. Wilkins recalled summers spent pulling weeds in lima bean fields as a child. "Every year we have glyphosate-resistant marestail germinate, even in a field with no weeds there last year," he said. "Because a marestail weed seed can travel up to 10 miles." A Monsanto representative talked of the difficulty of re-educating farmers on intensive weed management, which means not only applying residual herbicides, but scouting fields two weeks later to destroy weed escapes and killing weeds when they are 3 to 4 inches tall.

-- Low commodity prices, which make growers less willing and able to spend more on weed control. "You're asking guys to spend $25 to $30 an acre where they used to spend $10," said Ron Manley, a regional crop consultant and cattle feeder. "That's going to be a challenge."

-- The addition of the most aggressive weed in the country, Palmer amaranth, to the regional mix of resistant weeds. There was a time when Todd Davis, the noxious weed specialist for the Delaware Department of Agriculture, knew the location of every patch of herbicide-resistant weed in the region -- mainly Johnsongrass, burcucumber or giant ragweed. "Then Palmer came around," he said. "I went from knowing the location of the problem to every field, every roadside being susceptible. I went from a job that is manageable to a job putting out fires. You can't be proactive -- it's too massive."

-- The growing complexity of herbicide labels and regulation, particularly with new herbicide-tolerant crop systems such as Dow AgroSciences' Enlist system and Monsanto's Xtend system. One ag retailer noted that his company isn't certain it even wants to offer the newly labeled dicamba herbicides (for Xtend soybeans) because of the challenging labyrinth of label requirements governing each application.

The notes and lessons learned from these meetings will ultimately be combined, refined and published this summer. For more information on the next five regional Herbicide Resistance Learning Sessions, which will take place in the Southeast, North-Central, West, Southwest and Northwest regions, contact your regional WSSA office: http://bit.ly/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee