Before reaching its current breakneck pace, glyphosate-resistant pigweed only crept slowly through Southern row-crop fields. Even then, though, astute weed scientists warned that Roundup Ready technology – and, consequently, conservation tillage – was under threat and growers should take immediate action to ensure its continued viability. 

That message, even when put through a media bullhorn, was not enough. Now, resistant pigweed has taken over many fields and continues its unrelenting march across U.S. farmland.

At the 2011 Beltwide, the “Cotton Weed Science Research Session” aims to provide up-to-date information about where research and education efforts are headed.

“The plan is to gather speakers from different companies and organizations who can address what they’re doing on the resistant-weed front,” says Ken Smith, a veteran weed specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “It’s true that university researchers are knee-deep in this. But we’re not the only ones working on resistance – we could never have a heavy impact if not for the others involved with this. And at Beltwide, I’d like to point out all the different facets of resistance research and outreach.”

Smith, who has been tasked with putting together the Beltwide program, says the preliminary agenda holds a diverse group of speakers. 

“I hope the NRCS will be represented and tell us about incentive programs. Those programs may not even be final at the time of Beltwide, but they’ll be able to give us the gist and tell farmers how they might participate.”

The Cotton Council “may also be on the program, talking about educational efforts and outreach to consultants. They’re certainly working to get information on resistance out.

“I also plan to have industry representatives to speak. For example, Monsanto has a $20-per-acre incentive program if a farmer uses residual herbicides. Farmers should know about that.”

Trying to keep the session from adopting a dry academic tone, Smith says “more than anything, I’d like this to be an information exchange – a give-and-take – between the speakers and farmers. Farmers need to know what’s being done to address herbicide resistance.”

How was Smith approached to pull the session together?

“Bill Robertson, with the Cotton Council (and former Arkansas Extension cotton specialist), is largely responsible for putting the Beltwide program together. A while back, we happened to be talking on the phone and he said ‘resistance would be a good session topic. We won’t call it hands-on but we’ll call it interactive, where attendees can come in and ask questions.’”

If farmers have suggestions as to what needs to be done, or ideas on how to achieve it, “the Beltwide session would be a great opportunity for that,” says Smith. “I’m going to moderate the forum so it will be as open as possible. We have about two hours where resistance will be front-and-center. Hopefully, we’ll have a good crowd of farmers and they’ll be educated by our speakers.”

Surveying the resistant-weed spectrum, Smith is optimistic. “There are a lot of folks studying weed resistance. It may seem slow going to some, but I think we’re making progress. It isn’t easy.

“Today, I’m speaking to a Farm Bureau group and the topic is ‘Taking herbicide-resistant pigweed head on.’ Well, my first slide has a caption that says ‘Caution: you’re in a hard hat area.’ Again, dealing with resistance is not easy -- but we’ll manage it.”

Smith’s positive take on weed resistance was bolstered by the Pigposium in mid-November. That forum – a full day of speakers addressing resistant pigweed – drew some 800 attendees. Only 300 were expected.

In the Pigposium’s post mortem, “Everyone I’ve spoken with said it was a great program,” says Smith. “I think they liked that the topics flowed and built on each other. They also liked that there was ample opportunity to interact with the university researchers and were able to swap resistance war stories with other farmers. 

“I think we’re turning the corner on resistant pigweed. It seems everyone is now getting on the same page. The media has gotten behind this, now, and everyone is talking about the same concepts. With that, it makes it a lot easier to convey such an important message.

“We want to continue that at the Beltwide, provide a full picture for farmers that attend.”