The most troubling weed to local farmers is mare’s tail, according to farmers and ag industry representatives attending the annual Fort Wayne Farm Show last week. But an even more prolific weed has arrived in Elkhart County from the South, where it is creating economic hardship for cotton farmers.
“Here’s the next one that is going to be a son of a gun to handle,” said Bob Mayo, an agronomist with Seed Consultants Inc. of Washington Courthouse, Ohio, as he reached out at his company’s show booth with a flier about Palmer’s amaranth.
The Palmer plant, as farmers know it, was once cultivated by Native Americans in the Southwest for food. But it has found modern ag practices favorable for spreading and is well-established in the Southeast and is moving north.
According to Mayo, the plant arrived in Northern states through the use of cotton seed hulls by dairy farmers. Cotton seed hulls are added to dairy feed because they provide nutrition and amaranth grows in cotton fields. The problem for Elkhart County farmers is Palmer’s amaranth became resistant to Roundup in the South and is now taking over cotton fields there. And farmers are worried the same economic disaster may occur in the Corn Belt.
“We found it this summer,” said Jeff Burbrink of the Elkhart County Purdue Extension Service. “It’s here. We found it in several different places.”
Palmer’s amaranth is a prolific breeder, according the Burbrink, because it has both a male and female plant and can produce up to 500,000 seeds per plant. And because it produces easily and quickly through two parents, it has an evolutionary advantage.
“Because the plant has male and female it means it can change up its genetic makeup pretty quickly,” he said. “...A plant that survives a dose of product (such as Roundup) and builds up a resistance to that product can pass that resistance pretty quickly.”