Ontario Farmers Get the Chance to Call Out Their Worst Weeds

Waterhemp in a Lambton County field of soybeans. Photo from Josh Vyn.

In Ontario, it’s not enough to just kill weeds. Now, you can publicly shame them, too.

Farmers with an axe to grind against the most intrusive vegetation species in their fields are being invited to cast an e-ballot in the 2016 version of Ontario’s Worst Weeds.

This survey is designed to highlight farmers’ weed concerns and trends. Briefly, it asks some foundational questions – in what county your farm is located, the number of acres you farm, your tillage system and your primary role in agriculture.

Then comes the clincher: you get to vote for what you consider your five worst weeds. And if you don’t see your arch nemesis weed(s) there, you can write it in.

This is what’s called a “citizen science” approach to gaining information, in this case, about weeds. In a citizen science scenario, those affected get to help provide the data that will help address whatever problem exists.

Canada fleabane in soybeans. Photo courtesy of David Bilyea.

The survey is being coordinated at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus by weed technician David Bilyea, along with colleagues Kris McNaughton and Christie Shropshire.

“I talk to producers and students about weeds all the time,” says Bilyea. “It’s good to have an idea about what they think are the worst weeds, so these talks can be as relevant as possible.”

The survey is just getting started. Bilyea wants to have it wrapped up in the early summer so he can present the results at Southwest Ag Days, an extension event for growers held annually at the campus in July. That way, he can formulate discussion from the findings.

Based on his own research, and on early results from the survey, Bilyea has some clear ideas about what weeds are threatening the province’s farms. And so do growers.

“Canada Fleabane is currently the weed topping Ontario grower’s worst weed list,” he says. “Glyphosate resistance in Canada Fleabane is a very problematic weed. The weed has always been around. But now, resistance is causing big problems.”

Scouring rush horsetail in soybeans. Photo by Kristen Obeid.

Scouringrush horsetail in soybeans. Photo by Kristen Obeid.

To participate, go to the survey and you’ll see a host of more than three dozen weeds, from atriplex to yellow nutsedge (“We tried to fill the top 40,” says coordinator Bilyea). You can click on any five of them, and the computer software moves them into a box called “the worst weeds in your area.”

You’ll be familiar with some of the names. They’ve been around for ages, but they’re still lingering because they’re so tough to control — dandelions, wild mustard and Canada thistle, for example.

Growers have written in other suggestions, including phragmites, scouring rush, cleavers, comfrey, annual bluegrass and vetch.

Bilyea is on the look-out for those he hasn’t seen yet, those that could very well arrive in Ontario from the US, such as palmer amaranth, a type of pigweed that is wreaking havoc in the American Midwest.

Several producers have commented on the appearance of “ditch weeds.” They don’t know exactly what they are, but when ditches and no-till fields are side by side, weeds can easily crawl from ditches to fields and take hold.

Comparing the subtle differences between comparing red root pigweed, green pigweed, palmer amaranth and water hemp. Note the lack of hair on waterhemp and palmer amaranth. Photo by Christy Shiropshire.

Comparing the subtle differences between red root pigweed, green pigweed, palmer amaranth and water hemp. Note the lack of hair on water hemp and palmer amaranth. Photo by Christy Shiropshire.

The upside to citizen weed science is that the participation can be vast. The downside is misidentification. Some species are extremely similar looking, such as the many members of the pigweed family. Bilyea encourages Ontario producers to check with the provincial agriculture, food and rural affairs’ ministry’s Ontario Weed Gallery to make sure they can properly name their worst weeds.

Given his locale, Bilyea sees much of what’s established or emerging in southwestern Ontario. The information he receives from producers elsewhere helps round out the provincial picture. Now, he’s particularly interested in receiving participation in the survey from the east. But he welcomes it from anywhere there are weeds – and that’s everywhere.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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