Mallory-Smith reflects on past, sees a future of challenges

Retired weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith with flowering broccoli, left, and canola plants. She spent the last three years studying cross pollination between plants such as canola and broccoli.

Projecting ahead after a 25-year career, retired Oregon State University weed scientist Carol Mallory-Smith said to expect more regulations in coming decades surrounding the use of herbicides.

“Around the world, they are talking about banning herbicides, and in Europe, a lot of herbicides have already been banned,” Mallory-Smith said. “Even in the last two or three weeks, we have read about talk of banning glyphosate in Brazil. It is real, and it is out there, and we have to look at it.”

In a sweeping discourse at the OSU Extension Seed Crop and Cereal Production Meeting in Salem, Ore., Sept. 12, Mallory-Smith reflected on her career and addressed what growers might expect in the future.

In addition to an increase in herbicide-use regulations, she said growers can expect a buildup of resistance within weed populations and shift in weed populations promulgated by climate change.

“What we are seeing across the U.S. is a lot of the weeds that only used to occur in the South have started to move north,” she said. “We are going to see different weeds in our system than what we see now.”

In many cases, she said, the new weeds will outcompete weeds currently in Western Oregon production systems, which, in some cases, might not be a bad thing.

“But,” she said, “usually the weed that comes in is a worse problem than the weed that you just took out.

“And something to think about is that all of the crops that we grow in Oregon, with the exception of wheat, are minor crops, and it takes a long time to get registration for many of the crops that you are growing, so it is not an easy task to get a herbicide labeled for a new weed,” she said.

Oregon farmers also can expect to see more issues surrounding co-existence in the years ahead, she predicted, as crop diversity continues to increase in the Willamette Valley.

“Off-target pesticide movement is going to continue to be a problem, and it is going to be a bigger problem, both because of the kind of crops that we are growing and because herbicide use, in general, (is coming under attack),” she said. “A lot of people are opposed to any kind of pesticide use, so I think you are going to see more pushback on that.”

In reflecting back on her career, Mallory-Smith identified the discovery of unauthorized Roundup Ready wheat in a field in Eastern Oregon in May of 2013 — a discovery she made in her lab from a sample sent in by a grower and a discovery that shut down some export markets for many months — as one of the biggest issues she faced.

She also identified the escape of Roundup Ready bentgrass in Eastern Oregon and in Central Oregon, and the issue of whether to allow widespread canola production in the Willamette Valley as top issues.

“The last three years of my career have been spent dealing with this issue,” she said of the canola issue. “It is now turned over to the Oregon Department of Agriculture and they will be making a decision by mid-November.”

As for the most difficult weed-management issues she faced, Mallory-Smith listed several grass weeds that are problematic for grass seed growers, including annual bluegrass, Italian ryegrass, roughstalk bluegrass and rattail fescue. She also identified the broadleaf weed wild carrot as a major challenge in weed management and jointed goatgrass, which is a problematic weed in the eastern half of the state, and small broomrape, a problem weed in clover production, as significant weeds in her career.

As for identifying her biggest rewards, Mallory-Smith said working with the agricultural community ranks high.

“Growers have been fantastic,” she said. “We’ve worked on their land. They accommodated us in all kinds of ways. The industry has really helped through the years.”

Mallory-Smith closed her presentation with a call for growers to speak out and educate the public about agriculture.

“We need to become more visible and more vocal,” Mallory Smith said, “and becoming more vocal doesn’t mean becoming louder. It means being there when we should be there.

“I think we have to help the public understand what we do, why we do it, where their food comes from, how safe their food supply is in the U.S.,” she said.

“And remember that we have reduced political clout. When I first came here 25 years ago, agriculture had much more clout in this state than it does now,” she said. “So, making friends on both sides of the aisle is really important. We need advocates wherever we can find them, and the people who are not sympathetic with agriculture are the people we should be sitting down with and explaining: ‘Here’s what we do, why we do it, why we have to do it this way, and why that is important.’

“Agriculture is still extremely important to the economy in Oregon,” she said, “but it doesn’t have the voice that it used to have, and we need to make sure that we keep it out there.”

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