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Monday, September 27, 2021

Researchers investigate solutions to invasive weeds

The agriculture industry can thank a large portion of its progress to research at universities, such as the UC Davis’ Plant and Environmental Sciences Department.

Last Thursday, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visited UC Davis to award the university with a $495,000 grant toward advancing strategies for the management and elimination of weedy or invasive species.

Principal investigator Dr. Marie Jasieniuk will use the three-year research grant to develop economic and environment-oriented strategies for invasive weeds. These strategies will aim to prevent the spread into ecosystems in orchards and vineyards that provide tree fruits, nuts and grapes.

The research centers around a main problem in agriculture today – the resistance to herbicides in cropland weeds. A resistance, however, has evolved in weeds, causing a serious impact to farmers. The herbicide commonly known as Roundup is widely used and contains the active ingredient glyphosate.

“We have a problem of resistance of weeds that glyphosate is supposed to combat,” Merrigan said.

Jasieniuk’s lab will determine the genetic basis of this resistance, the distribution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, rates of resistance evolution and the process of resistance spread, Jasieniuk said at the grant announcement. The next steps will be to determine which management solutions for farms are most economical and environmentally balanced.

Invasive plants and animals cost U.S. producers up to $27 billion each year. These species are a threat to food and fiber production and affect farm and ranch productivity.

“If you are a farmer, weeds are just nasty,” Merrigan said. “They are hard to battle; they compete with crops. This is why investing in agricultural research is really what we need to be doing.”

The problem is serious for orchard managers. Overcrowding of weeds on the ground makes raking and harvesting difficult. The ideal harvesting ground for nut crops is a hard, concrete surface with no imperfections. Weeds are imperfections that interfere. Farmers rely on herbicides late in the season to maintain a firm harvesting surface.

The team of seven is working to develop strategies that are safe to humans and come at a low cost.

“If we can figure out this team’s research, we can allow farmers and researchers to save crops and money,” Merrigan said.

Future implications of the studies findings will benefit consumers with better deals at grocery stores.

The researchers will pool their findings to communicate different management strategies to growers. Without this type of research, different products, machinery and manual work would be used, but a main aspect of Jasieniuk’s goals is to minimize costs.

“Most research that is good is collaborative research,” Merrigan said.

The team is now setting up a survey of growers and pest control advisers’ current practices and knowledge of the process of resistance evolution. The researchers will collect seed for targeted species and conduct trials in the field. This study will pave the way for future research, the direction depending on the success of the recommended management practices.

“Every year we will have some information to put out to growers for their resistance management,” said Thomas Lanini, researcher and plant sciences’ weed ecologist.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced $4.6 million in funding to 13 universities for research to support research in the control of weedy and invasive species. UC Berkeley received $494,000 for research in management programs for invasive species.

POOJA KUMAR can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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