PNW Herbicide Resistance Initiative: https://wagrains.org/articles/investments-in-usda-priorities/
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Drew Lyon: Hello, welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production.
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Drew Lyon: My guest today is Dr. Nick Bergmann. Nick is a post-doctoral researcher at both Washington State University and the University of Idaho. Nick earned a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from Montana State University and an M.A. in Geography from Portland State University. As a human geographer with specializations in political ecology and historical geography, Nick’s scholarship focuses largely on analysis of resource conflicts in the U.S. West.
Currently, Nick is working with Dr. Ian Burke and Dr. Chloe Wardropper on projects focused on finding solutions to the problem of herbicide resistance in weeds. Hello, Nick.
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Hey, Drew.
Drew Lyon: So, how did you come to study the social dimensions of weed management?
Dr. Nick Bergmann: So, my specific background for my dissertation research was much more focused on water resources. And so, I had interactions with farmers and ranchers across mostly eastern Montana for that work on various projects. But I did not focus at all on weeds. And really, aside from my garden, I didn’t think too much about weeds. And so, you know, when this postdoc opportunity came along, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I was pretty excited to be still operating in the U.S. West and getting to operate in socioenvironmental systems. And just kind of came into it and jumped off the deep end a little bit. But it’s been great.
Drew Lyon: Okay. It’s kind of a newer area in weed science as well. You’re kind of forging–maybe one or two people ahead of you–but it’s fairly new, so you have lots of potential to find new things, do you think?
Dr. Nick Bergmann: I do think that’s very true, yeah. I’m a little bit connected to the rangeland ecology world, and there’s actually many more social scientists working in that space. And there’s been some great work done over the last decade, I would say, by social scientists in weed management and herbicide resistance, and it goes into kind of invasive species too. But specifically on weed resistance, there was a little bit done in Australia in the first decade of the 2000s. And then in the US context, it really kind of picked up circa 2014 maybe.
Drew Lyon: Okay. My recollection is that, you know, weed scientists have been talking about herbicide resistance for a very long time and really not making a whole lot of headway and that’s why we’ve kind of looked to the social sciences to see whether there’s something we’re missing. Is that kind of how you see it or how do you how do you see social science coming into the topic of weed management and particularly herbicide resistance?
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Another great question. Yeah, this one could take an hour, but I’ll try to be concise.
I would just say, first of all, that I think weed scientists and education and technical assistance folks have made a lot of great progress on herbicide resistance. And I think there were just certain aspects of social science that maybe could help out with thinking about the problem and maybe new ways to come up with additional tools to kind of help compliment that great work already going on.
I think it’s sometimes we as scientists maybe think about social scientists as being a silver bullet and having some magical solution that’s all of a sudden going to solve the problem. And I definitely don’t think that’s the case. But I do think there is maybe some additional ways of knowing or frameworks that can help develop additional tools. And that’s really what excites me about working in this space, this very interdisciplinary space.
Drew Lyon: Okay. Part of the social dynamic in this has been what’s called community-based management. What is community-based management of herbicide resistance?
Dr. Nick Bergmann: My work definitely falls within that category, but part of what I’ve been doing is trying to just parse out what exactly has been meant in the decade or two decades of social dimensions work where community-based has been a popular term to use. But I think everybody working in that space actually still needs to kind of refine what exactly that means a little bit.
Two things I’ll point out. One is the long history of cooperative or area-wide weed management. And so, I think community-based fits in there. And then maybe more conceptually, there’s this idea that weeds and herbicide resistance specifically because they’re mobile, they function as what would be called a commons resource. And certain frameworks for thinking about the commons that have been used, such as Ostrom’s common resource theory, will use the term community-based. And so, I think that is partially where that term came from as well.
Drew Lyon: Okay. So what approach are you taking to studying the social dimensions of herbicide resistance in this part of the world?
Dr. Nick Bergmann: So, the project I came on to was already set up to a certain extent. So, the previous post-doc, Dr. Katie Dentzman, who was working with Ian Burke–and I don’t know if she worked directly with you or not, Drew–but has been working on this in the Pacific Northwest for three or four years before I came on. And for the previous one or two years, she had basically set up a pilot project of three communities across the Pacific Northwest. One down in the Camas Prairie in Idaho, one locally on the Palouse, and one up in north central Washington, kind of centered on Douglas County there but with other producers involved as well. And the idea here was, can there be some creative approaches to managing this mobile resource?
And so, I came on and I thought about some of my previous work, and this framework called co-production of knowledge seemed like a really good fit. And really what that means is trying to tackle the problem by getting producers and research scientists primarily in the room together to bring that experiential knowledge of being on the land and working the land with that really skilled set of grounded in the scientific method and research methods that the various researchers can bring to this issue. Get them in the same room together but really create an environment where there is no kind of expert layperson. So, like expert researcher versus non-expert farmer and just allow kind of the dynamic there to be an equal footing. And the hope there is that there can just be more innovation and farmers are more comfortable to kind of throw out some–that might sound like crazy, wacky ideas–but actually might come around to have a lot of value for helping to tackle the problem of herbicide resistance.
Drew Lyon: Okay, so how’s that process going?
Dr. Nick Bergmann: I have to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to go, but I think it’s going okay. It’s gone well enough that one of our communities in north central Washington coalesced with an idea about how to move forward.
I should back up and say in the winter of 2021-2022, we held between three to five community meetings about once a month in these three communities. And the idea was, can we just figure out new creative ideas to kind of push forward through that have a research component that we can maybe make progress on–and developing additional tools to deal with herbicide resistance, whether that’s direct or indirect. And at the end of year one, the kind of the group that had coalesced most significantly, I would say, was the group up in north central Washington. And they basically wanted to develop additional cash crops to put in their rotations up there as an indirect approach for helping to deal with herbicide resistance management–under integrated weed management.
And so, this year we concentrated our resources. We kind of paused the other two groups and concentrated the resources up in north central Washington. And over the course of three to four meetings, they decided that–they narrowed in on wanting to try to develop a market and be able to grow a C4 warm season grass up there. And the two kind of choices that popped at the top were proso millet and then grain sorghum. And based on the landscape up there and it being glacially covered soils, there’s a lot of rocks up there. So, a lot of the producers have significant rocks in their fields and don’t want to smash their headers, and so they were excited about grain sorghum in part because it’s a higher growing crop up there.
And so yeah, we are in the process of setting up a collaborative experiment up there with 8 producers growing anywhere from 15 to a couple hundred acres of grain sorghum.
Drew Lyon: Alright. When I was in western Nebraska, those are two crops we introduced into our wheat fallow systems to diversify and help us fight weeds, but we got rain in the summer. So, it’ll be interesting to see how adding a summer crop would be a great way to help manage many different weeds. But it’s a little more challenging here than it was in the Great Plains. So I’ll be interested to see how that comes out for you.
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Yeah, we’ll see. And I think what’s been really rewarding is even if we can’t get there, I think the process has been really innovative, right? We’ve succeeded in this co-production of knowledge process even if we can’t get the crop to grow ultimately. And so it’ll just come down to how impactful we can be actually on the resistance management front if this kind of cash crop get up and running.
Drew Lyon: I think it’s a great strategy to strive for. And my guess is if you work hard enough, you’ll find something that will work.
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Hopefully, and I appreciate the conversations we’ve had around it and insights you’ve been able to share, which have been useful even if all the insights haven’t necessarily been incorporated immediately.
Drew Lyon: That’s okay. I don’t always get picked up on my ideas around here either.
How does this work intersect with the PNW Herbicide Resistance Initiative, which was recently funded by the federal government through the efforts of the Washington, Oregon, and Idaho Grain Commissions?
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Yeah. How familiar are your listeners with that initiative?
Drew Lyon: Well, we’ve had a couple discussions when Dr. Burke was on and talked about it a little bit. But yeah, if you want to give us a little more background for those who didn’t hear that podcast episode and then how your work fits into that, that would be useful.
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Sure. Yeah. So that–well, I’m not sure if I’m the best person to explain it–there is a significant social science component as one of the objectives of the Pacific Northwest Herbicide Resistance Initiative, which is a tri-state initiative with USDA-ARS, Washington State University, University of Idaho, and Oregon State University, to really build capacity to proactively address basic science questions related to weed science and herbicide resistance, and then also to try to come up with more solutions and tools in the toolbox through extension and outreach to help growers adapt and deal with this increasing problem.
So, this community work preceded the approval of funding for the Herbicide Resistance Initiative, although my understanding is that it was kind of part of the thought process that was baked into some of the social science objectives that were there. And so, once it got funded, there was a process of coming off previous funding sources and kind of rolling the projects that I’m on within the Herbicide Resistance Initiative.
There have been some benefits. We’ve been able to collaborate really nicely with some of the USDA-ARS scientists. And also the previous project felt like it was mostly University of Idaho and Washington State University in the way it was set up, and so, also getting to collaborate with Oregon State University is part of the initiative, I think is a real benefit as well.
Drew Lyon: Okay. Well, I appreciate you taking some time to visit with us about the social science aspect and community-based–if that’s what you want to call it–research.
You know, as a as a weed scientist, dryland cropping systems specialist, somebody involved in agronomy, I think the social sciences, because we’re interacting with growers who are living in a social context and have different pressures, I think it’s something we’ve neglected a bit in the past. So, it’s very interesting to me to watch how those two disciplines sort of work together. My hope and guess is that we’ll make progress in areas we haven’t been able to before.
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Yeah, that’s the hope. And once again, I don’t want to oversell social science integration as being a silver bullet, but hopefully there is something to offer there. And I think time will ultimately tell on that, but hopefully we can help make progress on the problem.
Drew Lyon: Well, integrated weed management is bringing in lots of different things to address an issue. So, this is just one more tool to bring to the toolbox of addressing herbicide resistance.
Thanks, Nick. Appreciate having you on today.
Dr. Nick Bergmann: Thanks, Drew, really appreciate it.
Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. If you have questions or topics you’d like to hear on future episodes, please email me at drew.lyon — that’s email@example.com — (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can find us online at smallgrains.wsu.edu and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.
I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University’s endorsement.