Spread of resistant weeds shows need for zero tolerance

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The impact of a single herbicide-resistant weed can be far-reaching. In test fields, the seeds of one mature glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth plant were released. In the third year of crop production following the release, complete crop failure occurred due to infestation of this weed. This study shows the need for a zero tolerance threshold in the management of glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth.

The journal Weed Science presents research conducted over four years in four Arkansas cotton fields. In this study, 20,000 seeds of glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth—which may represent only 2% of seed from one plant—were introduced into a 1-square-mile area. The weeds that resulted were not managed, but allowed to “escape.”

Seeds can be dispersed by wind and water, and moved by animals, humans, and machinery. Weeds such as Palmer amaranth, that can produce a large amount of small seeds capable of floating in water, can spread rapidly throughout a production field. Palmer amaranth has prolific seed production, rapid dispersal, and high competitiveness with crops, making herbicide-resistant strains difficult to control.

In the current study, glyphosate herbicide was the only weed management used. In the first growing season, a separate patch of Palmer amaranth emerged 375 feet from the original location. In the second year, resistant plants expanded to reach field boundaries and infested 20 percent of the field area resulting in decreased yield and significant problems with cotton harvest. By the third growing season, glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth had completely colonized the fields, making the cotton crop impossible to harvest.

The expansion of resistant weeds seen in this research helps to explain the rapid takeover of many farms by glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth, particularly when glyphosate was the only means of weed control. It also demonstrates the need for a zero tolerance threshold of weed management—keeping all resistant-prone weeds from escaping control—to prevent loss of an herbicide or technology. Weed control based on an economic threshold (dollars spent vs. dollars returned) does not adequately consider the soil seedbank and the risk for herbicide resistance.

Full text of the article, “In-Field Movement of Glyphosate-Resistant Palmer Amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) and Its Impact on Cotton Lint Yield: Evidence Supporting a Zero-Threshold Strategy,” Weed Science, Vol. 62, No. 2, April–June 2014, is now available.


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