In an attempt to slow the quickening spread of herbicide-resistant weeds across the country’s farmland, a USDA-funded project is about to drop surveys in the mailboxes of some 10,000 producers. The surveys will be used to help assemble a plan to push the collective agricultural community to adopt a proactive approach to resistance management.
Part of a multi-disciplinary team, Jason Norsworthy, University of Arkansas weed scientist, spoke with Delta Farm Press about the project, its goals and why the resistance train must be slowed. Among his comments:
“A USDA-funded project was initiated about a year ago aims to understand and address the barriers to adopting many of the BMP herbicide resistance strategies which have been proven from a research standpoint to be quite effective.
“How is weed resistance being addressed in different regions across the country? What might work from one region to another?
“We tend to be reactive when it comes to resistance management. Rather than try to get in front of the problem, or be proactive, we wait until it’s an issue on the farm. Unfortunately, at that point, we’ve lost a herbicide and it won’t be part of the solution.
“There are even sociologists on the project to help us understand how to overcome the reluctance to get involved with proactive resistance management early. How do farmers view resistance? Is it a farm-by-farm problem? Is it a problem for the community? For the country?”
On the surveys…
“A major part of the study will be grower surveys. Ten thousand surveys will be sent out across the United States and they’ll emphasize cotton, corn, soybeans and, for the northern producers, sugar beets. The questions include what crops you grow and how you deal with weed management.
“As I travel the country, the resistance issues farmers are dealing with are quite different. And the level of resistance management strategy adoption is also quite different.
“One thing that’s been talked about on a national level is the zero tolerance program that the University of Arkansas helped create with (Extension agent) Andy Vangilder around Piggott, Ark. Ken Smith (former Arkansas weed specialist) and I worked to develop that concept and get it off the ground. Tom Barber has also been instrumental since he replaced Ken Smith after his retirement.
“A lot of folks outside Arkansas have looked at the success of the zero tolerance program and have asked how can they duplicate the community concept of weed management and put it on larger acreage in different states.
“These things should have been done earlier. But they simply must be done now before we run out of weed control options.”
Why sugar beets? Are there major resistance problems in that crop?
“Yes, there are very few herbicide options. They do have Roundup Ready beets but if they lose many more herbicide options the crop can’t be grown.
“Rice was another crop considered for scrutiny in the study. But it was eventually agreed that there’s only three million acres of rice in the United States and it’s largely a Mid-South crop that won’t translate as well nationally.
“I’m basically coordinating the Mid-South effort, there’s Wes Everman in North Carolina coordinating the Southeast effort, Mike Owen is handling the Midwest, and Jeff Gunsolus is handling more northern states.
“Why don’t growers act in a more proactive manner? Well, with commodity prices where they are, it’s understandable. We’re at a low ebb for crop prices and it’s a bad time to ask folks to spend extra to deal with weed resistance. But there are a lot of concerns as we move forward since there are no new chemistries or no new modes of action hitting the shelf anytime soon.”
On the USDA…
“The USDA will be looking very closely at the study results. Should there be incentives around farm programs to help farmers prioritize resistance management? Is there anything the government can do to encourage proactive management?”
Are the farmers to be surveyed aware it’s on the way? Will the survey just show up in their mailbox?
“It’ll just show up. Every farmer, through USDA, is known by crops they grow. So, they’ll be randomly chosen based on the four crops and regions.
“There are some stark differences in how folks approach weed resistance from, say, the Mid-South to the Midwest. Over the last few years, the Mid-South has been dealing with this and we commonly use preemergence herbicides. You’re unlikely to find a Mid-South farmer now who doesn’t use a residual herbicide at planting.
“Head to the Midwest and farther north and the use of residual herbicides is much less frequent. That’s because they haven’t had as many resistance issues as the Mid-South.
“The idea here isn’t really to identify weed resistance management strategies. We may not know everything but we’ve done a good deal of research to come up with solutions. We know how to deal with resistant weeds and have a good idea what it takes to prevent weeds from developing resistance.
“So, how do you take that message, that knowledge and build it into a farm program to prevent the problem from showing up?”
It sounds like you’re almost finding the best way to market weed resistance BMPs.
“That’s true. We know what the BMPs are so how to identify the social barriers to adopting them is the next question. We need to identify those social barriers and hopefully the sociologists on the project will provide answers.
“Farmers seem to roll their eyes at the idea that a sociologist is involved in solving this problem. At first glance it does seem a bit much. But when you consider what the project is trying to do it makes sense. There’s really three parts to this project which involves weed scientists, agricultural economists and then a sociologist.”