Palmer amaranth threatens Midwest farm economy
"If you think about the value of agronomic row crops in this state, that's why we're very, very concerned about how devastating this could be to us," he said.
So far, researchers have confirmed the presence of Palmer amaranth in more than two dozen Illinois counties, from the southern tip of the state to Will County, about 50 miles south of downtown Chicago. In about half of those counties, the weed is already resistant to glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide on Midwest farms, Hager said.
The plant grows so quickly and so tall that it can completely obscure low-growing crop plants. Some soybean fields in Kankakee County, Illinois, became so overgrown with Palmer amaranth that the soybeans were barely visible to the eye.
Many farmers think they can use the same techniques that tend to work against other common weeds – a onetime application of glyphosate herbicide, for example – to control Palmer amaranth, Hager said. This assumption could endanger their farms.
"There is not one magic herbicide that a farmer could use one time and be done with it," he said. "It doesn't work that way."
And if the weed gains a foothold in planted fields, corn and soybean growers in Illinois should take a tip from Georgia cotton farmers and do everything possible to remove the plants, he said. Not a single plant should be tolerated.
"We have to set the threshold at zero. It has to be zero," Hager said. "It's hard to imagine another weed species that would be more injurious to crop production than what this one will be."
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