A Community Approach to Herbicide Resistant Weeds with Dr. Katie Dentzman

Palouse wheat fields.

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Show Notes & Resources Mentioned:

Contact Information:

Contact Katie via email at Kdentzman@uidaho.edu or via phone at (616) 566-4133.

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Episode Transcription:

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. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Dr. Katie Dentzman. Katie got her Ph.D. in sociology from Michigan State University with a focus on food and farming systems. Her dissertation research focused on human dimensions of herbicide resistant wheat issues. She is especially interested in what triggers farmers’ concern and proactive management practices. Her current work with herbicide resistance prioritizes forming community-based action plans. For this work she was recently profiled in Capital Press as one of their Western innovators. Hello, Katie.

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Hello, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So the sociological aspect of herbicide resistance is really quite intriguing to me. Why do you think sociology is important for addressing herbicide resistance?

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Yeah, definitely. So we actually have a lot of knowledge as far as agronomics, weed science, the kinds of best practices that farmers should be doing for managing herbicide resistance. So the knowledge is really there on a lot of those practices but a lot of it isn’t getting used. So that’s kind of where it becomes an interesting sociological question is why aren’t people adopting these practices? And it’s not just on the individual farmer level, although that is certainly interesting, it’s also in industry, in government, in extension. What’s making herbicide resistant so difficult to manage at all of these different levels and how are those networks kind of influencing each other? And so once we start to understand those relationships and that human dimension, we can kind of move into what’s going to make managing these weeds more practical, more actually doable.

Drew Lyon: That’s pretty exciting because I’ve been talking about herbicide resistance for my entire 30-year career and haven’t seen a whole lot of movement in the direction I like to see so if you can help us figure that out, I think it would be very exciting. So from your perspective as a sociologist what are some of the things that make it hard for farmers to manage herbicide resistance?

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Well, there’s a ton of things, honestly, that make it very difficult. And herbicide resistance is what we call in sociology a “wicked problem.” And so a “wicked problem” is basically a problem that has so many different dimensions to it that it’s going to be extremely difficult to actually solve. And that’s because there’s no one magic bullet, no one single solution that’s suddenly going to make everything better. It’s going to take looking at industry and government and academia and farmers and take all different disciplines working together to really combat this. And there has to be, for one thing, a substantial change in the way we think about farming as a system and think about weed management and just how people manage their actual weeds. And sometimes that can be very difficult, it can be pretty painful actually to go through that process of reimagining your goals for your farm or what you think your farm should look like, what you think you should be doing. And it also takes a lot of small practical changes at different levels from different people. So the farmer is definitely important, but like I said before crop advisors, university researchers, extension educators, the government, even consumers and their expectations for how food is grown and sold. All those things have to kind of come together. And farmers have a lot on their plate, they can’t influence all of those people at once and they’re trying to do a lot of things. They’re trying to be good stewards of the land, they’re trying to make a profit, they’re often trying to keep their farm and keep the land in their family. So they’ve got a lot of things they’re trying to balance all at once and it’s a lot of pressure. And it’s not just about the farmer and that’s something that I learned when I was doing my dissertation research. I kind of came onto this project of herbicide resistance from the perspective of, “oh, it’s the farmer’s responsibility to be doing something about this. Why aren’t they doing something?” and that was the perspective I was bringing. And then I started doing these focus groups around the country with farmers about herbicide resistance and that really changed my perspective a lot. People were telling me, they’re trying everything, they really care about providing society with food, about keeping their land beautiful and clean and profitable as well. And a lot of people were really upset, were really sad about this issue and felt very constrained in what they could actually do about it. And so that really changed my perspective and that’s something that I try to carry with me into my current work and especially when I’m talking to people and trying to explain the issue. I want to be able to kind of speak to the fact that it’s not just the farmer it’s the whole society that has to deal with this problem.

Drew Lyon: As you explained it’s almost — wicked is one word, a very overwhelming problem because there are so many different aspects to it. As an extension specialist you know I give a talk, growers I think they understand the issue very well but there’s economics and government programs and company incentives and all these things all come together. So no small task ahead of you. What are some of your next steps and how can people get involved in helping us solve this herbicide resistance issue?

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Part of what it’s going to take to address it is people getting together and especially neighbors, communities working together on this problem and that can be very difficult. And in a lot of my focus groups I had farmers saying that their biggest struggle with herbicide resistance was their neighbors and how their neighbors were managing their weeds because all of a sudden, your neighbors’ weeds will soon become your weeds. And they often found it very difficult to talk to their neighbors about herbicide resistance, they didn’t want to come off as overbearing or telling their neighbor how to farm. It can be a very delicate issue especially if they had herbicide resistant weeds themselves kind of the pot calling the kettle black thing there. But there’s also an extremely strong community sense with farmers where a lot of these focus groups I was doing it was a tightknit community, they were willing to help each other out with pretty much anything. It was just the difficulty of talking about these more delicate subjects and not wanting to step on anybody’s toes. But what we’re finding in our research is that that kind of communication is really necessary. You’re not going to manage herbicide resistance on your own, it has to be linked to your community and to the people around you to really do it effectively. And so what we’re trying to do is kind of provide the support and the framework for actually bringing those people together and having those conversations. And I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the Weed Science Society of America and they are involved in a bunch of these different efforts across the country where they’re building community management systems and I get to learn from that, which is fantastic. And that’s part of what we’re trying to bring to the Pacific Northwest.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So I’ve heard of this zero-tolerance program in Arkansas around Palmer amaranth. Can you speak a little bit about what they did and how maybe some of that might be brought to bear here in the Pacific Northwest?

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Yeah, definitely and I actually did one of my focus groups in the county that was doing the zero-tolerance program which was a great experience and I got to learn a lot from them. And one of the fundamental things is that it was really organized and run by farmers themselves. It was with their priorities, it was all of their ideas about how to enforce it, it was all voluntary. The community coming together and saying okay here are ground rules for our zero-tolerance program. Here’s how we’re going to kind of enforce that through peer pressure or people had signs in their fields that said they were part of the program. And I had people saying well you don’t want that sign in your field and have a weed right next to it. [Drew laughs] So it kind of creates that community expectation. And then also another part that was important was having the support of the local university. And it wasn’t that the university was driving the entire program but the farmers were able to tell them this is the kind of support we need, this is how you can help us out with facilities or some kind of organizational management, somebody to bring people together. And that’s kind of what we’re trying to do here is provide people with that support and that framework.

Drew Lyon: Okay so you’re trying to do something similar here in the Pacific Northwest. If a grower is interested in this idea how can they get involved?

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Yeah, so currently we’re trying to learn a little bit more about different communities in the PNW. And the kind of barriers they face to bring the community together like this because obviously we’re not Arkansas. [laughter]

Drew Lyon: Right.

Dr. Katie Dentzman: And there’s a program in Iowa as well, we’re not Iowa; different cropping system, different culture, everything. And so before we jump into this, we need to really understand what is it that people need, what strengths do communities in this area have that could help us to form these initiatives, and what kind of support do people want from us. And to that end we’re conducting these listening sessions in different communities in the Pacific Northwest. And basically trying to hear from farmers. what are your issues, what do you need from us to actually help you establish these things? And so any community that’s interested honestly, I would love to come and talk about kind of what it takes to do this community-based management.

Drew Lyon: Okay so if somebody wants to contact you what is your contact information?

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Yeah, definitely. So you can reach me by email at Kdentzman@uidaho.edu, that’s K-D-E-N-T-Z-M-A-N at UIdaho or you can give me a call, my phone number is 616-566-4133. I can’t promise that I’ll pick up on the first ring but leave me a voicemail and I will definitely get back to you.

Drew Lyon: Excellent, we’ll make sure we get both those things into our show notes. Well this is very interesting; I’m going to very curious to see how this progresses because there are examples of it working. And Lord knows what we have been doing hasn’t been working so I think maybe this brings a new component, a new fresh look at how to address herbicide resistance.

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Yeah and I’m very excited about doing this in the Pacific Northwest specifically because I think we have a unique opportunity here. We did a national survey of farmers looking at herbicide resistance and people were concerned. But we did a survey in the Pacific Northwest as well and people were more concerned here. So there’s kind of that base already here, that you know threshold of concern is already in place. And we’re also kind of ahead of places like the South where the problem has overflowed.

Drew Lyon: Right.

Dr. Katie Dentzman: So we’ve got a unique situation here that I think is ripe for something good.

Drew Lyon: Excellent, well, thank you very much Katie, I appreciate having you on the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast.

Dr. Katie Dentzman: Thank you.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: 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 podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon — that’s lyon@wsu.edu –(drew.lyon@wsu.edu). 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.