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Weed-killing microbe could save farmers money

Matthew Weaver
A microbe that combats prevalent weeds could save wheat farmers money if it's approved as a bioherbicide by the Enviornmental Protection Agency, USDA Agricultural Research Service soil scientist Ann Kennedy says.

LIND, Wash. — A microbe that eliminates weeds, but not wheat, could save farmers the expense of using other herbicides if approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ann Kennedy, a soil scientist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Pullman, Wash., spoke during Washington State University’s Lind Field Day about her efforts to register the bacteria, which combat cheatgrass, medusahead and jointed goatgrass.

The microbe is in the EPA registration process. If approved, it would be available to farmers in the fall of 2016, Kennedy said.

The naturally occurring microbe needs to be registered by EPA because it inhibits a plant, Kennedy said.

It would be marketed commercially by BioWest Ag Solutions.

She held up a small vial of freeze-dried material, which is the amount needed to treat an acre.

“These are the grandparents of what is really going to inhibit your cheatgrass, medusahead or jointed goatgrass,” Kennedy said.

The microbe limits the root growth of the grassy weeds.

“But they don’t hurt wheat, barley or any of the native plants,” Kennedy said.

Once applied, the microbe usually takes two to three years to establish, and the weeds are typically gone within five years, she said.

It has applications in wheat fields and rangeland.

Farmers will be able to apply the bacteria using a sprayer in the fall by mixing it with water, applied to the seed or use it in pellet form.

Kennedy estimated the cost would be less than $10 per acre. The microbe takes three to five years to work. She estimated an application would be necessary every three to six years.

Farmers at the field day said they were interested in the development.

“Nothing likes to eat medusahead rye, and if this controls it, that would be a very good thing,” Jerry Snyder, a Ritzville, Wash., wheat farmer, said. “There’s not an acre in Adams County that’s pasture ground that doesn’t have medusahead rye on it.”

Snyder doesn’t think farmers have an issue with the microbe’s delayed action.

“The cost of chemicals is soaring,” he said. “If we can move away from that, that would be an excellent idea.”

Kennedy would like to see the state Department of Transportation use the microbe along highway rights-of-way, further reducing the spread of the weeds.

The savings to growers would be substantial, Kennedy said.

“The worry will be so much less, as far as trying to control an annual grass weed in a cereal,” she said.





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