Source credit: www.mitchellrepublic.com
HOLDREGE, Neb. — The three dozen agriculturalists peered through the bus windows to get their first good look at what they’d come from North Dakota to see: A field infested with Palmer amaranth, the weeds — replete with seeds — towering triumphantly over the outmatched soybean plants beneath them.
The agriculturalists, many of them seeing the weed in person for the first time, responded with shock and dismay. Their distress grew when tour guide Mat Larson, of Holdrege, a Nebraska-based CHS agronomist, told them that the producer who farmed the land had gone all out, spending heavily on pesticides, to control the weeds.
“I’d thought I’d seen it all, but this tops it all. We were book-smart about this weed, but you can’t really grasp how bad it is until you see it for yourself,” Tom Peters, the North Dakota State University extension official who organized the trip, said later.
The two-day trip in Nebraska, on Aug. 15-16, was funded by the North Dakota Soybean Council. It sought to educate tour members, most of them NDSU extension officials, about Palmer amaranth, a destructive weed that’s well-established in Nebraska and steadily moving north into Agweek Country.
The weed — which has caused yield losses of up to 91 percent in corn and 79 percent in soybeans — already has been found in southern Minnesota and parts of South Dakota. Experts believe it’s just a matter of time before Palmer amaranth is found in North Dakota, Montana and the rest of Minnesota and South Dakota, too.
Bill Nielsen, a Minden, Neb., farmer who showed some of his fields to the North Dakota group, knows the threat firsthand.
“This weed can just explode on you,” he said.
Because each Palmer amaranth plant has as many as a million seeds, the weed can multiply rapidly, overrunning a field within three to five years from when the first plant begins growing there.
Jody Saathoff, farm representative with CHS in Minden, Neb., who led the North Dakota group through a tour of infested weeds in his area, provided this math:
If a million seeds from one Palmer amaranth plant is spread evenly over 160 acres and 90 percent of those seeds are controlled, there would be 622 plants per acre.
“That’s a train wreck waiting to happen,” Saathoff said.
Nielsen’s approach to Palmer amaranth is “zero tolerance.” He tries to eliminate the weed in his fields — an impossible goal, but one that gives him the best chance of moderating the weed’s spread. His effort includes walking through the fields and pulling out Palmer amaranth plants by hand.
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