Farmers face tough weeds

U researchers are teaming up with farmers across the nation to combat resistant weeds.

Raj Chaduvula

In recent years, herbicide-resistant weed species have been cropping up like, well, weeds.
 
In the face of growing issues with weed control, a group of scientists armed with a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant is trying to combat the problem. 
 
The group, comprised of researchers from the University of Minnesota and other institutions from across the country, will survey 10,000 farmers across 29 states to determine the next step in fighting herbicide-resistant weeds that strangle crops.
 
The goal of the survey is to examine farmers’ efforts against herbicide-resistant weeds and the costs they incur, said Terry Hurley, a University applied economics professor on the team.
 
“We are interested in what [farmers are] doing currently to deal with herbicide resistance and compare that with what we scientists think they should be doing,” he said.
 
The team will focus on herbicides in general and particularly glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide.
 
Glyphosate — which was first introduced 20 years ago — has increasingly been a problem, said Arlene Cotie, communications officer for the Herbicide Resistance Action Committee. 
 
The group, which includes agriculture companies such as Monsanto and Bayer Crop Science, helps develop new weed management policies and promotes research to farmers.
 
“We’re no good at gathering this technical information if we can’t get it delivered to the growers,” she said.
 
Herbicides revolutionized farming because farmers could use one for all their crops, she said.
 
Cotie said every year, the number of plant species that become resistant to glyphosate doubles.
 
“Everybody agrees on the cause of herbicide resistance. It’s that we use the same herbicide over and over again,” Hurley said.
 
But farmers tend not to follow weed management suggestions that the scientific community gives, he said.
 
Cotie said farmers might not listen to suggestions due to the costs of some management techniques.
 
The survey will be sent to farmers who grow various crops across the nation, said Jeffery Gunsolus, another University professor on the team.
 
The survey will look at four specific crops — corn, soybeans, cotton and sugar beets.
 
“Those are [the crops] where the problems are greatest right now in terms of herbicide resistance,” Hurley said.
 
The survey will be sent on Nov. 20 via email unless the farmer requests a hard copy, he said. 
 
Hurley said the results could help shape government policies to encourage farmers to use different management practices. 
 
“The survey has been designed to identify social, economic and technological barriers that prevent farmers from using different weed management approaches,” Gunsolus
said.