Weed science contest preps students for real-world challenges

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Weed science students from Canada and the U.S. put their lab lessons to the test in the field at the Northeastern Collegiate Weed Science Society (NEWSS) Weed Contest last week in Plattsville, Ontario.

More than 50 students from seven universities competed in the full-day event that judged their skills in weed identification, sprayer calibration, herbicide symptom identification and in-field problem solving.

“It is exciting to see these future weed scientists in action. It is really encouraging for our industry and for farmers who will ultimately benefit from their skills,” says Harold Wright, president of the Canadian Weed Science Society, and technical research and development manager with Syngenta Canada, who hosted the event.

Jacob Barney, NEWSS president, says the event is student focused and designed to teach them about various aspects of weed science and to network with colleagues to learn about different careers. “It also gives them a real-world sense of the types of challenges and problems they might face.”

“Every single aspect of what we’re doing here can be related in the field,” says Hannah Symington, a University of Guelph graduate team member. “No matter whether we’re going into research, sales, industry or academia, there is something here that can be taken back with us… what we all like about the competition is how realistic and practical it is.” (Check out Bernard Tobin’s video report from the NEWSS Weed Contest. Story continues after the video.)

Participants showed off their skills in correctly identifying weeds at various stages of growth and identifying herbicide applications in different crops based on visual symptoms. Teams also competed in a sprayer calibration challenge that required everything from calculating spray volume and herbicide rate to hands-on nozzle selection, boom height and application speed. Finally, in-field problem solving required students to determine the issue facing a crop and recommend an effective course of action for the grower.

Hosted at Syngenta Canada’s Honeywood research facility, the competition returned to Canadian soil for the first time since 2000. More than 70 volunteers from crop protection companies, agronomists, weed experts from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as well as local farmers, helped to facilitate and judge the competition.

“This contest is very prestigious among weed scientists and weed science students,” says Karrie Boucher, event organizer and value summary Lead with Syngenta Canada. “These students have worked hard and came to win.”

Virginia Tech won the graduate student division while Cornell University took top prize in the undergraduate division. Two University of Guelph undergraduate teams finished second and third. Other participating schools included Clemson University, North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University and Rutgers University.

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