Farming in an Evolving Environment

It would be fair to say that we, as humans, over the course of our time on this planet have seen numerous shifts and changes in our environment. While some of these changes have led to the extinction of species, both animal and plant, we, as humans, have been able to adapt very well. In this article, I will refer to some organisms and plants as invasive. However, this may be the incorrect definition by term. An invasive species is; non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm. I contacted the USDA, as well as the DNR, on the definition with a key question that neither agency could define. What if you have species that are native that no longer die or can be managed with chemistries or technologies that had previously controlled them? Maybe we should just call them super bugs and super plants. Either way, they are definitely NOT super to have in your fields!

Later in this article, I will address some of the invasive species that are causing economic and environmental harm and continue to proliferate in our fields. First, I will present a case study of how profound invasive species are in our environment. To do this, I look no further than one of Minnesota’s most precious resources, water. The state of Minnesota spends over $2 million annually just on the education and prevention of invasive species. Several laws have been put into place to prevent the introduction of both new and existing invasive species from spreading. Current legislation went as far as having to drain all water from your boat and minnow pails before leaving the lake. If you want to keep your bait; by law, you have to have fresh water in your vehicle and exchange the water out. Beyond that, you are also required to have no weeds on or attached to your boat or trailer. If you fail to do this, the possible result in fines could be in excess of one hundred dollars. The DNR will tell you that their campaign against invasive species is 100% preventative. Once invasive species are established, they are almost all but impossible to rid from the lakes and water ways.

The unique battle we face in fields is that we can rid these species once we have them. We can do this through a zero tolerance seed goal, which is physically removing these weeds before they go to seed. Economically, this is the most expensive and labor intensive, but it is the only way once invasive weeds are established. If you have fields that do not have populations of invasive weeds, you still need to continually adapt your spray chemistries and practices that are best suited or effective for elimination of these weeds. After all, these seeds can travel beyond fence lines as the winds blow and the water runs. Again, you cannot control what your neighbors are doing to manage these pests; you can only control how you mitigate the spread of them on your ground.

Our culture does not reward acts of prevention. One can look to our history books for this where there is very little mention of people who have been praised for the prevention of anything. We reward those in both history and our lives who cure or help solve the issues (once they are identified as problematic) that are presented. History isn’t written for the diplomats that have prevented war, it is written for the generals and nations who won the war. Nobody thanks the doctor that has told them for 50 years to eat healthy and exercise regularly; they thank the doctor that cures their ills.
With the wide spread adaptation of technology in farming over the last 20 years, most, if not all technologies have made our lives more efficient in terms of managing a crop. If you have a weed issue, there was a chemical to kill it. If you have a bug problem, there was technology put into the plant to kill it. These technologies have been a simple solution in all but eliminating issues in fields that have historically been a problem. I have observed this for myself on our family’s farm in which the middle of the section always
had a persistent canadian thistle patch. The patch had been there for as long as my father could remember.
Supposedly, my Grandfather met my Grandmother in that very patch via a shared line fence in which it was a common ritual to migrate to every year with a sharp hoe in hand to attempt to eliminate the weeds. While my Grandparents never eliminated the patch, it was always kept in check while it did not cause
an economic hardship for the ground. It did cause many blisters on the hands in the hot
summer days. That thistle patch is now history……….maybe?

While the thistles are gone, there are new challenges. Weeds like giant ragweed
and water hemp are becoming harder to kill. It is estimated that in the 2012 growing
season, 5 – 95% of all fields in Minnesota’s corn growing region have glyphosate
resistant water hemp and giant ragweed! In the southern half of the state, these percentages
increase to 70-95% of fields. As you move north, weeds like kochia and common
ragweed have similar percentages in fields. Corn Root Worn beetles, both Northern and
Western; have become more resilient to technologies and management practices. These
pests are giving corn a one-two punch. It is very important to look at managing these
in both our corn and bean fields, as they are migrating to the beans to lay eggs more
than people want to recognize. These are the invasive species that are adapting to our
environment and management practices at an alarming rate.

We must look to history to recognize that simple is what got us to where we are at in
dealing with these resistant pests and weeds, but simple will not get us out of it. Looking
forward, we must avoid these invasive species (resistance) at all costs because it
will come at the expense of lost revenue in the future. It is, and will always be better to
spend the money to prevent these instances from occurring in your fields than to bare
the economic hardship of trying to eliminate them once they are established.

Looking toward the future, you must ask yourself if you are willing to implement preventative
measures to assure these species do not proliferate in your fields. Will you be
willing to walk your fields 7-10 days after herbicide application to verify an effective
kill? Will you stop the combine before processing the seeds of these resistant weeds?
Will you pull roots and soak them to identify if you have rootworm in each of your
fields to better manage for years to come?
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – Benjamin Franklin


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