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Community Management of Herbicide Resistant Weeds – An Update

Posted by Katie Dentzman | December 22, 2020
Herbicide resistance can be difficult—or impossible!—to manage alone, not the least because weeds are pesky in their ability to spread from farm to farm. Based on this simple concept, along with a lot of less-simple research to back us up, a group of academics and extension educators from the University of Idaho, Washington State University, and Oregon State University are piloting four Community Herbicide Resistance Management Initiatives in the Pacific Northwest.

These groups are composed of wheat farmers, conservation district members, NRCS reps, and others located on the Camas Prairie, the Palouse, in Douglas County (WA), and in Morrow County (OR). Each group meets once per month via Zoom to work through a Community Management Toolkit and answer questions that will help define the problem, metrics for successful management, potential barriers, and specific techniques and steps to reach community-wide herbicide resistance management goals.

As of now, each group has had 1-2 meetings. I have been extremely impressed with the energy, excitement, dedication, and creativity in each of these meetings. I’ve been working on the human dimension of herbicide resistance for over 6 years, and yet I’m still continuously encountering new and innovative ideas for weed management.

Some examples that have come from these meetings include:

  • An emergency weed management fund, available upon application to help manage the weeds of farmers who are dealing with emergency scenarios such as health issues, natural disasters, etc.
  • Cooperative ownership of innovative weed management machinery, such as the Weed-It (pdf) or Harrington Seed Destructor
  • Incentive payments, overseen by NRCS, for farmers maintaining clean fields; defined as fewer than 10 Russian thistle plants smaller than a volleyball per 100 acres in the first two years, decreasing to fewer than 5 in the third year

These ideas are exciting because they’re novel and have the potential to improve resistance management while also making farmers’ lives a little easier. But they’re also a bracing example of the innovation and energy that will be needed to address herbicide resistance effectively. It can be easy to get pessimistic about herbicide resistance and our capacity to manage it, but these groups have demonstrated a lot of reasons for optimism.

It’s my hope that as we continue to meet and push forward we’ll be able to direct our collective creativity towards practical solutions that extend beyond our current weed management limitations.

But I’d also like to hear from you; do you ever feel pessimistic about our collective ability to manage herbicide resistance? What breaks you out of that cycle and gives you hope? Do you think community management is one tool that can help make that shift?

4 thoughts on "Community Management of Herbicide Resistant Weeds – An Update"

  1. Aaron Wilson says:

    I like the discussions that are occurring and hopefully more innovative ideas are thought of. Seems like there are two parts at play here…herbicide resistance and general weed management. With budgets ever getting tighter for farmers, there can be a “ill get to the weeds next year” which becomes a perpetual concept. With the prices of some herbicides being quite expensive (milestone for Canadian thistle for example) I wonder if there could be a fund setup that covers maybe 50% of the cost of the herbicide if farmers abide by a set of rules over a period of time? FYI, I’m a wheat farmer in Lincoln county WA.

    1. Katie Dentzman says:

      Hi Aaron, thanks for your comment! Budget comes up over and over as a reason that farmers can’t manage weeds in the ways they’d prefer–if it were less of an issue I think we’d see a lot of people managing their weeds differently and probably more effectively to deal with herbicide resistance. I’ll add your idea to the list! The more we get, the better the ‘toolbox’ of ideas different communities have to draw on. Now there’s an idea; a collection of community management ideas proposed by farmers in a given region that any group can draw on and adapt! This is why I value dialogue and engagement–gets the creative juices flowing!

  2. A. T. J. says:

    We are very aggressive with our weed management. We farm in a 6-10” rainfall zone in central Washington. However community management is something I frankly have given up on. We currently are the only farm in the area without external income, thus we are motivated to do our best. However most other farms here gain significant income from wind, solar, or other sources. We have noticed that with that security comes an attitude of apathy. Despite the many meetings with WSU extension, myself, and local Conservation Districts, I can only surmise that they simply do not care, and will not until they finally feel the proverbial wolf at the door. By then I’m afraid it will be too late for all of us. Despite all of the “boogeymen” farmers feel they face (EPA, IRS, China, etc) it’s ironic that we may very well be our own undoing.

    The only thing I think we can do here is to soldier on and do our best to follow resistance management practices. Perhaps one day, they will notice the problem and we can move forward together as a community (we are a very isolated community/area) to deal with this.

    1. Katie Dentzman says:

      Thanks for the comment, ATJ. You bring up an issue I’ve been grappling with for years–how to engage the people who have very little incentive or motivation but are nonetheless key parts of both the problem and the solution. My research so far has echoed what you’re seeing; that the wolf has to be at the door before action is taken (in this case, they have to recognize significant herbicide resistance on their own farm). I think part of that has to do with the number of issues demanding the attention of farmers and landowners. There’s very little bandwidth to deal with something that’s not a clear and immediate threat. From my perspective, there are two main ways to deal with that. One is to make it more clear and immediate–that could be through education, farm tours of local land with herbicide resistant weed infestations, hearing testimony from regions of the US where the issue has gotten severe, etc. The other is to ease the burden of dealing with the issue. If herbicide resistance and weed management seem too daunting, chances are they’ll be avoided. Part of our goal with the community management groups is to lessen the individual burden through collaboration. I take on recruiting, organizing, facilitating, summarizing ideas, etc. from a large group of stakeholders with diverse ideas and resources. I’m hoping this will make it seem easier for people who are bogged down by other issues to tackle weed management. If we see success with this project, our goal is to develop a series of toolkits for any community that wants to start their own management group. Hopefully you’ll see that develop somewhere down the line!

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