There's the good in agriculture, beautiful row crops, and then there is Palmer pigweed -- a green menace that chokes the life out of a field, and an expensive problem for farmers the past few years.
Dr. Larry Steckel: During that time it really blew up. That was the first year it really started taking over whole fields; farmers weren't even harvesting in some cases. And it got worse every year after that. More fields were infested.
UT Extension's Dr. Larry Steckel has been fighting Palmer through research; here he updates Extension agents for the coming crop season. And, he has allowed the weed to take hold in experimental fields to measure its impact on crop yields.
Palmer pigweed and other invasive plants have a huge negative impact on Tennessee agriculture.
It's basically doubled our herbicide costs in soybeans and in cotton, and another third in corn. Plus the yield loss, plus extra applications, plus losing fields and not ever harvesting them. It's around $100-120M a year issue now, and just in Tennessee.
UT experts learned pretty quickly they couldn't just spray this problem away. Yes, some herbicides have been effective the past few years, but here in west Tennessee there was also research about using cover crops to keep weeds away. Cover crops, like this grass, replenish nutrients in the soil and don't allow weeds to gain traction over winter. Combined with herbicides, these methods seem to be effective in combatting weeds.
It was an issue talked about at the West Tennessee grain conference in Dyersburg, where farmers say they are encouraged by the latest on weed control. Elizabeth Lague's family farms 10,000 acres in Lauderdale and Dyer counties and weeds are an expensive problem they must battle.
'We are starting to make progress. I can see some fields beginning, not necessarily to clean up, but to become easier to manage. We are finally figuring the system out that we need to use. And so there is hope.
David Nichols (Dyer County Producer): 'It's still a tremendous issue, but with conferences like this today, we've been able to meet with these researchers and people in the industry and find out some different tools that are available.
Farmers will use herbicides and whatever else they can to fight off weeds like Palmer, but the hope and expectation for 2013 is to see a lot more good green that bad.