"Devil's spawn" - farmers curse herbicide-resistant weeds

palmer amaranth weeds.jpg

Jay Reiners has had enough.

“I’m calling it the devil's spawn. I've thrown everything and the kitchen sink at it, can't kill it.”

Herbicide resistant weeds have become a huge headache for Nebraska farmers.

“Just evolving faster than we can keep on top of it,” Reiners said.

The advent of Roundup Ready crops was a godsend for farmers. Biotech crops were engineered to grow unaffected by the chemical glyphosate, while weeds bit the dust.

Reiners said, “I miss those days, you go out there and spray Roundup and everything dies.”

Weed specialist Amit Jhala says glyphosate, the chemical in Roundup, was a huge breakthrough, and worked well for more than 20 years.

Dr. Jhala said, “It was like a miracle, because you could apply glyphosate and it was such an effective herbicide for a number of weed species, including perennial weeds and things like that, it's a great technology, a good herbicide, but only problem is we were using the same herbicide again and again, couple three times in a season.”

Weeds like palmer amaranth adapted, and a single plant can produce a million seeds.

“They are prolific seed producers,” Jhala said.

New options are coming for soybeans. It’s estimated these herbicide resistant weeds now span five million acres in Nebraska.

Jhala said, “Glyphosate resistant weeds are almost everywhere in the state.”

Experts say the lesson is that farmers need to rotate herbicides the way they rotate crops.

Jhala said, “We cannot rely only on glyphosate for control of this type of waterhelp and marestail and palmer and those type of weed populations.”

The University of Nebraska conducts real world research -- looking for different herbicides, different management, and different seeds.

Jay Reiners says the research is spreading, but so are the weeds.

“They got weed seed for the next century out here,” he said of the University’s South Central research farm.

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