Zombie Weeds: Plants Become Vicious Again

Update December 2014:

Farmers engaged in an epic struggle with “superweeds” are looking for help from a new super chemical that’s about to hit the market–but some concerns are still tough to weed out.

Update October 2014: Superweed Facts and Myths   

This article from the Weed Science Society of America provides a new fact sheet touproot common misconceptions about superweeds– a catchall term used by many to describe weeds resistant to herbicides. 
Updates July 2014
  *** This Des Moines Register article looks at the “super weed” problem, and this editorial asks, “Who ya gonna call when the weed busters no longer work?” 

Palmer amaranth can shoot up as high as 7 feet, and just one plant can produce up to a million seeds. Herbicide is increasingly futile against it, and weed scientists are sounding the alarm because the plant can cause deep losses in corn and soybean yields. 
Experts warn U.S. crop producers that herbicide-resistant weeds are aggressively taking hold in many parts of the country and pose a significant threat to U.S. crop productivity and profitability. 

My earlier blog looks at the…

Return of the Weeds from Hell

Some researchers refer to herbicide resistant pests as potential horror stories. Considering recent articles about herbicide resistant weeds, you might assume Hollywood will soon be remaking The Day of the Triffids or Little Shop of Horrors with waterhemp, marestail, and pigweeds auditioning for leading roles.  Coming soon to a field near you: Dawn of the Glyphosate Resistant Weed and Silence of the Lambsquarter.

Ag services and chemical companies are making recommendations regarding how to fight the resurgent weeds, as some farmers vary herbicides, rotate crops, or use old-fashion tilling techniques. The ultimate back-to-the-future move would be if soybean farmers reverted to the ancient practice of walking beans.  Only a select group of old timers in the Midwest would know the joys of weeding beans, but for the uninitiated, just picture Mike Rowe arriving for a “Dirty Jobs” segment carrying gloves, a hoe, and his usual big-bill cap .
In the early ‘60s, soybean fields made for good talking points. By June it was obvious which would need to be “walked”—weeded by stoop laborers…or teenagers…or us. Farmers would hire youngsters to go row-by-row to pull weeds. My brothers, cousins, and I started walking beans on the home place about as soon as we were potty-trained, but Dad let us hire out to neighbors by the time we were 12 or so. Child labor laws were flexible then, and the 50 cents an hour wage that first year didn’t bring the IRS down on us either.
We’d often start early to beat the heat; dew-drenched, with mud sticking to our Keds’ tennis shoes, we’d trudge along, pulling most weeds, chopping some, and basically wrestling with the ones that seemed more like small pine trees. Heat, thirst, and blow flies were irritating, but mud clod fights with a cousin eight rows over could be dangerous.  It was satisfying to see the field get “clean and tidy” several rows at a time, but we were really after pocket money to buy a top-40 single or admission to the roller skating rink a farm family had set up in a nearby converted hog barn.
The move to bio tech soybeans turned the fields into English gardens devoid of that old weedy character; they became bland and beautiful, like cloned fields of dreams. Considering my age, I hope companies and farmers figure out safe, effective ways to fight the weed comeback that seems to be growing.  My days of doing hand-to-hand combat with cockleburrs, buttonweeds, and Canadian thistles are over.
Note: CAST’s influential Issue Paper, Herbicide-resistant Weeds Threaten Soil Conservation Gains: Finding a Balance for Soil and Farm Sustainability, examines the impact of certain weed management practices on soil conservation objectives and addresses ways to mitigate negative effects. 
by dan gogerty (photo courtesy of Jack Bacheler and Communication Sevices, N.C. State Univ. in Perspectives, the Magazine of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, NCSU, Winter 2009)

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