This story also appears in our University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Agricultural Research Center Magazine. Stop by your local Research Center to pick up a copy!
The University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources’ Bradford Research Center is home to numerous MU faculty research projects and serves as a base for several programs.
One of those programs is the Division of Plant Sciences weed science program. Kevin Bradley, an associate professor and MU Extension weed scientist, is one of the faculty members who helps lead the program.
Bradford serves as the perfect place to conduct a variety of research related to weeds and weed management problems.
“Year to year, Bradford is our base location for nearly everything that we do,” Bradley said. “The majority of the work we do at Bradford is to evaluate new products or new traits before they come onto the market. That usually makes up 60 to 80 field experiments per year. It’s important research to our clientele – companies develop new products and we are able to evaluate them before they become commercially available. In this manner, we are able to provide unbiased research information to the Missouri farmer about what will be most useful for them in their operations.”
Evaluating those products and traits is a key component to the unveiling process.
“Nearly everything we do in weed science research today is because of the wide-scale problem of herbicide-resistant weeds,” Bradley said. “Our newest research emphasis is on the off-target movement of herbicides. We’re always responding to issues that arise and trying to get new information out there.”
Bradley said most of their work focuses on corn and soybean production. They also do work in pastures and see what effects weeds have in pasture settings.
“We have one graduate student who is only focused on weed management in pastures,” Bradley said. “We like to keep at least one active research project going in that area, as Missouri ranks in the top five in the nation in beef cattle production, and forages are very important to us in this state as well.”
Bradley oversees a handful of students each year. The goal with each project is to highlight timely problems or issues. There are times where students will conduct proactive research on possible future problems as well.
Their work investigates herbicides, which are chemical substances used to control weeds, as well as mechanical and cultural weed control tactics.
“We always look at the current issues that we need to find an answer for,” Bradley said. “But there are also instances where we’ll start researching a potential issue that could happen five to 10 years down the road.”
Dealing with dicamba drift has been a big focus of recent research – and will continue to be an issue the program will monitor.
Dicamba is a common herbicide but unlabeled and illegal dicamba formulations were used in 2016 on dicamba-tolerant soybeans, creating a dangerous drift that damaged thousands of acres of crops across the state. Bradley has already put in thousands of miles traveling across Missouri to inform individuals about the importance of reading labels and being aware of the harm drift can cause.
“This is arguably the most important thing we’re working on in 2017,” Bradley said. “We have a graduate student whose project involves sampling dicamba in the air after applications and monitoring temperature inversions. We’re using a real-time feed established with the weather station at Bradford. We believe the weather station can tells us when the inversions are occurring, and when the station tells us there is an inversion, we’re going to spray. The air samplers we are using are going to tell us if the dicamba escaped or not. We’ll do the same thing when there’s no inversion and take more samples.”
Soybean varieties within Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System were approved by federal regulators in 2016. Those varieties tolerate dicamba and glyphosate – but no dicamba formulations were approved to match the varieties. Many of the complaints focus on dicamba formulations that were used on Xtend soybeans that were not labeled for that use. Those formulations moved offsite and injured numerous other crops.
While a good portion of the damage was done in the Bootheel region, Bradley said that issues happened across Missouri and its border states. It affected a variety of ornamentals, fruit trees and vegetable crops as well.
The Xtend soybeans are just one of the many traits that the weed science program works with.
“We have another graduate student project that compares all of the various traits that are now available to soybean farmers,” Bradley said. “There are Roundup Ready, Liberty Link, Xtend soybeans, and we’ll have Enlist soybeans soon. It’s important to see what kind of weed management programs are most appropriate in each system. This will be very important research for Missouri farmers in this new era of so many soybean trait choices.”
The weed science program conducts a variety of other research as well. They look at the effects of cover crops on weed management, as well as how easily weeds can be spread. This research involves thinking outside of the box. Students are currently searching through bags of birdseed and testing it for weed content.
“This is normal birdseed that you can buy at Wal-Mart or Home Depot,” Bradley said. “We’ve been screening them for weeds and seeing if those seeds are viable. We’ve actually found that some of the worst weeds are in those mixes, weeds that we don’t need to be spreading.
“We’ve done past projects along these same lines, where we’ve looked at how ducks spread weeds across the state as they migrate. As we see more and more weeds spread, it’s important to figure out how it happens. We’re doing our best to look at all possible avenues.”
Bradford also hosts a pest management field day each year. While the field day focuses on a variety of pests, weeds are always featured, as they are the worst pests farmers face year in and year out.
“Our goal with the weed science program is to do our best to serve farmers when weed issues arise,” Bradley said. “We want to be able to answer their questions and provide them with guidance as to what to do.”