Ten years ago, who would have thought that 650 people would show up at a conference to talk about one weed?
But that’s exactly what happened Wednesday, Nov. 17 at East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City, Ark. The PigPosium, sponsored by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and Farm Press, was expected to draw around 350 people. But as the auditorium filled, and with a huge crowd still waiting to register, a back wall had to be removed to create more seating. And University of Arkansas weed scientist Ken Smith, who came up with the idea for the meeting, had to send off for more food.
The turnout said two things. One, glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed is one of the biggest challenges faced by U.S. farmers this century. Two, farmers who showed up at the meeting are past the denial stage. They’re ready to start making the changes necessary to regain control of their production fields.
It’s not just farmers concerned about Palmer pigweed. I talked to a man who manages property for absentee landlords, who is having to explain to one employer why yields dropped so precipitously in 2010. The manager says he can’t afford to rent the land to a farmer who does not have the willingness and wherewithal to attack the pigweed problem.
Palmer pigweed. Have you noticed there’s usually one seed head that sticks up higher than all the others? It’s like a taunting digit that says, “This is what I think of modern technology.”
There have been few years when some kind of pest didn’t threaten U.S. agriculture. We’ve survived drought, flooding, boll weevils, resistant tobacco budworm, plant bugs and even Ken Cook with the Environmental Working Group.
But glyphosate-resistant pigweed could be the biggest challenge yet, for producers, consultants, biotech companies, seed companies and weed scientists. Most of the time, we’ve managed to stay a step ahead of pest resistance. This is one time, when it has a step or two on us.
At the PigPosium, farmers heard from experts, including a couple of fellow farmers, who have put a lot of thought, research, hard work and sweat into developing solutions for glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed. Hopefully, attendees took home some of their knowledge at the end of the day.
Most of the experts agreed on this rule of thumb when you spot pigweed in your fields – don’t wait to see if it’s resistant.
“You don’t want to continue to use a total post, weed control program and find out after the first application that you have glyphosate-resistant pigweed,” said Arkansas weed scientist Bob Scott. “At that point, we don’t have a club in the bag to take care of the problem. That was the situation many producers encountered this year.”