‘Houston, we have a problem,’ and it's called pigweed

‘Houston, we have a problem,’ and it's called pigweed

One of the benefits of being a Delta Farm Press editor is we see a lot of farm land as we drive to field days or meetings or on-farm interviews across the five Mid-South states.

The one constant on our travels this year: the proliferation of Palmer amaranth. Every so often, we see a train wreck – a field so infested with pigweed it probably won’t be harvested. But more often than not, it’s a plant scattered here and there across a field.

The other disconcerting aspect of traveling across Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Missouri Bootheel and west Tennessee is the amount of Johnsongrass and hemp sesbania or coffeebean, particularly in soybeans and grain sorghum, after years of being mostly absent.

Much of this “outbreak” of weeds that many thought were under control is being attributed to weather. Planting was delayed, and, in their haste, growers either left off the residual herbicides that weed scientists insist are needed to control pigweed or the herbicides didn’t work properly.

I’m also hearing comments about the “yield drag” from pre-emergence herbicides often enough to wonder how many growers – faced with low prices and rising input costs – decided to take their chances on skipping the pre’s.

I wonder about that because there are a number of fields that don’t have a pigweed or clump of johnsongrass or gaggle of coffeebean from one end to the other.

If it were any other plant, weed scientists would say controlling all but a hand full of weeds here and there would be good enough. With pigweed, it’s a different story. As growers know, a handful of plants scattered across the field this year will become large areas of pigweed next season if allowed to go to seed.

Some producers who didn’t get control with pre-emergence materials last spring are talking about more drastic measures in 2016. The word “yellow,” as in herbicide, has come up more than once.

A farmer speaking to a group of visitors the other day said two events have had a major impact on cotton in his lifetime – eradication of the boll weevil and the development of glyphosate resistance in pigweed.

It may be time for a pigweed eradication program.

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