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North Alabama farmers proactive in battling emerging pests

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Farmers in north Alabama's Tennessee Valley have had better luck than most in battling glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed.

Being an Alabama native, I’m admittedly partial, but I think some of the most beautiful farmland in the country is nestled in between the rolling hills of the state’s Tennessee Valley.

Looks, however, can be deceiving. As picturesque as it is, and as robust as the crops are that are grown from its dirt, farmers there will tell you that it’s some of the sorriest land around.

Maybe that’s why, with the unpredictable situations they’re certain to face each year, farmers there seem to do a better job than most of being proactive against emerging pests, like resistant Palmer amaranth pigweed in cotton and kudzu bugs and rust in soybeans. Maybe a new pest every now and then doesn’t seem like such a big deal when you’ve already met the immense challenge of coaxing 1,000 or more pounds of cotton from red clay soils that’ll make an indelible stain on your boots.

It was my pleasure to visit with a few farmers in north Alabama recently and to witness their joy and relief at having successfully completed another harvest. When discussing the scourge of gyphosate-resistant pigweed, they spoke matter-of-factly about the importance of using residual herbicides, rotating chemistries, and being timely with applications.

And something one of the farmers said really stuck with me. It helps, he said, to have good farmers around you – farmers who do everything within their power to avoid contaminating the land with a weed that’s nearly impossible to control once it’s established, looking out not only for themselves but also for neighboring growers. And, he added, “the only farmers left here are the good ones.”

Long-time Auburn University Extension Agronomist Charlie Burmester agrees that in terms of dealing with weed resistance, north Alabama growers have tended to fare better than their counterparts in other states. Most of this success, he says, lies in the proactive strategies farmers in the region have adopted in the early stages of the weed’s spread. It could have been disastrous, he says, but farmers stepped forward and did what they had to do.

 “I’m still pleasantly surprised because we expected to be in worse shape than we are,” Burmester says. “We’re still dealing with the spread of resistant pigweed, but we have been able to slow down its spread. We’ve had some fields with big problems, but in most fields, the pigweed is still scattered.”

If you’re looking for an excellent update on the weed resistance issue and new technologies that are on the horizon, join Burmester and some of his counterparts at a meeting on Dec. 11, at Calhoun Community College’s Aerospace Building, located just north of Decatur, Ala., from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. You’ll be treated to informative presentations, a good lunch, and some of the best scenery Alabama has to offer.

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