Don't Call Them Super Weeds

Inside Dakota Ag

Herbicide-resistant weeds aren't anything new. In fact, I've got several hoe-resistant weeds growing on my acreage.

Published on: July 11, 2013

Every time I read an article about “super weeds” sweeping across the American farms, I want whack the writer with my hoe.

 “Super weeds” seems to have become the catch phrase for herbicide-resistant weeds. Folks who have an anti-GMO agenda use the term a lot.

What gets me wound up is that they make it sound as if weeds have genetically altered themselves during the growing season to withstand applications of Roundup or some other herbicide.

"I was talking to a farmer from Arkansas, and he's got weeds that are now 8 feet tall; they're the diameter of my wrist, and they can stop a combine in its tracks," wrote Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, an organization fighting for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods, in a recent U.S. News article.

“Back in 2011, such weeds were already spreading fast. ‘Monsanto's "Super Weeds" Gallop Through Midwest' declared the headline of a post I wrote then,” wrote Tom Philpot in a recent Mother Jones article. “What's the word you use when an already-galloping horse speeds up? Because that's what's happening. Let's try this: ‘Monsanto's Super Weeds Stampede Through Midwest.’”

As I understand it, these so-called “super weeds” didn’t change their genetic code. It’s just that some were affected by a particular herbicide and went to seed.  They can spread rapidly when the landowner doesn’t realize they are resistant to the herbicide or chooses to keep using the herbicide until it’s more economical to switch.

When I was growing pumpkins commercially, I considered pigweeds super weeds. But they weren’t resistant to herbicide. They were resistant to my hoe.

Pigweeds would regrow if even one thin root strand remained in the soil. If it rained after I hoed, they would re-root themselves. I thought Canada thistles were super weeds, too. No matter how many times I chopped them down, they regrew. Quackgrass was a super weed. I couldn't kill it with a field cultivator. I just spread it around the field.

Dwayne Beck, a South Dakota State University agronomist and manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, S.D., once told me that weeds are nature’s way of covering bare ground quickly. Nature can’t tolerate a bare patch of soil when there is adequate moisture to grow something.

In a way, that makes all weeds pretty amazing.