After Attempt to Save Bees, a Superweed Thrives Instead

Pigweed inadvertently spread in seed mix, could take years to eradicate
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2016 11:57 AM CST
In Attempt to Save Bees, a Superweed Thrives Instead
Pigweed grows in a cotton field east of Lubbock, Texas, in 2014.   (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)

A herbicide-resistant weed strong enough to damage farm equipment has been spread on acres of conservation land in states like Ohio, Texas, Indiana, and Illinois under government programs, reports Illinois Farmer Today. Palmer amaranth, or pigweed—which the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes is "one of the most prolific and devastating weeds in the country for corn, soybeans and other row crops"—is typically found in the American Southwest but has been spreading to outside areas in recent years. Government programs like the Conservation Reserve Program meant to benefit bee and other wildlife habitats have inadvertently helped the spread: Officials say native seed mixes planted by farmers on conservation land were contaminated with pigweed seed.

It's not yet clear who is at fault—a scientist notes seed companies likely had no idea their mixes were contaminated—but in Minnesota, for example, the mistake has allowed pigweed to spread into two counties for the first time. All 13 affected landowners received seed mix from the same company, which hasn't been named. The annual weed—which grows so thick a scientist says it's "almost chain saw material"—has also spread to 49 counties in Iowa, up from five at the start of the year. The farmers there purchased seeds from areas like Kansas and Texas, where pigweed is found. Crews have been torching the weeds to prevent seeds from falling next spring—a single plant can produce 1 million, per the High Plains Journal—but eradicating the weeds entirely could take years. ("Cheatgrass" is invading the West.)

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