Unfortunately, this is an expensive practice. It costs about $33 an acre compared to shallow tillage, said Vann. “But you get good control, and because you are burying seed, you are reducing the seed bank in following years.”

Palmer amaranth is prolific in terms of seed production. A single plant can produce 500,000 seed. The seeds are very small, round, and black in color, and they attach to the leaf.

“Once the seed is in the tobacco, it is extremely difficult to remove,” said Tommy Bunn, president of United States Tobacco Cooperative (USTC), the flue-cured cooperative in Raleigh, N.C.

Weed seed contamination has been largely a problem of flue-cured tobacco so far, said Bunn. “Since burley is harvested by the stick in the field, it is less likely to have this happen.”

But Daniel Green, the chief executive officer of Burley Stabilization Corporation of Springfield, Tenn., said his cooperative would keep a close eye on the issue. “We take it very seriously,” he said. “We want to be part of the solution if we need to.”

The consequences of not solving this problem are frightening, but Bunn is very optimistic.

“There is no doubt in my mind our growers will do whatever they need to to overcome this problem. We just need to present them with the answers.”

Vann is also optimistic. He expects Extension crop scientists will have an updated control program to recommend to growers at winter meetings. “This situation should be manageable,” he said. “We have the tools to develop a program to deal with this problem.”

chrisbickers@gmail.com