Farm Talk


February 4, 2014

Palmer pigweed No. 1 ‘bad weed’ in Missouri

There's a new No. 1 bad weed to watch in Missouri, says Kevin Bradley, University of Missouri Extension weed specialist.

Palmer pigweed, aka Palmer amaranth, acts bad in more ways than most, Bradley adds.

"The weed pest has been in the state for as long as I've been here (10 years)," Bradley says. It was just another weed, not noteworthy. However, three years ago that changed when Palmer became resistant to glyphosate herbicide, the most-used weed control in the state.

Palmer turned aggressive and worked its way from the Bootheel to northwestern Missouri. For now it's found mainly in counties along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Soybean growers in particular face a challenge from the weed, which brings multiple threats, Bradley says.

For starters, each weed produces about 300,000 seeds. Worse, the herbicide resistance is transmitted by pollen.

Unlike most weeds, male and female Palmer pigweed plants are separate. Pollen must travel through the air to fertilize the flowers that produce the seeds. A characteristic of the pigweeds is the tall flower stalks with hundreds of florets.

There's more. Palmer germinates from early spring until late in the growing season. "It just doesn't stop reproducing," Bradley says. That allows it to outlast the longest-lasting residual herbicides.

The plant grows fast, up to 2.5 inches a day. And it grows tall, taking over a soybean field by shading out the crop.

Only 2.5 plants per foot of row can hide a growing soybean crop. Bradley shows slides of soybean fields where you must look close to see a soybean plant.

No other weed has so many bad things going for it, Bradley says. Control requires constant intensive management.

As with most weeds, but especially Palmer pigweed, the days of "one spray one day and done" are long gone.

Palmer resists glyphosate and four other herbicide modes of action. In Missouri, Palmer is resistant only to glyphosate.

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