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What’s with the weeds?

Flowerbeds skirt our house and porch on three sides, and each fall I set about trimming the bushes and prepping the beds for winter. This year’s job was particularly grueling. With the higher levels of rain we’ve had this summer and busy schedules, the beds were not weeded as often as they should have been, and the daylilies and iris I planted last spring were nearly suffocated by crab grass tendrils and some sort of succulent weed that had infiltrated through the brick edging. Four hours and a sore back later, they’re in good shape; that kind of work puts weed control in a whole new light.

Anyone who has ever kept up with flowerbeds or a garden can empathize with farmers — weeds are the last thing you want growing. It takes no effort to grow a bountiful patch of weeds, but a beautiful well-kept flowerbed or a hundred acres of soybeans is another story.

As with my flowerbeds and garden, this year was not particularly kind to farmers’ fields. Those not planted due to wet weather were overrun with weeds, and those that were planted saw the increased invasion of particularly nasty weeds, like water hemp, because of the wet weather. While weed pressure is an ever-constant battle in which farmers are entangled, the current increased weed issues are likely to last well into 2016, as many weeds went to seed and will not only be a part of next spring’s onslaught but possibly for years to come.

Most farmers are cognizant of what type of weeds will be popping up and have a management plan in place to address them at several points throughout the growing season. Unlike the hand trowel and good old-fashioned pulling techniques I used in my annual fall chore, farmers use a combination of things to control weeds. Crop rotation, tilling and herbicide application are among the tools in their arsenal, and they take care to manage weeds where and when it’s necessary, not with a careless or haphazard approach that is neither good for their fields or the environment.

Not too long ago, I overheard someone say they never saw a farmer who wasn’t intent on weed-control. While what they said isn’t untrue, the way in which they said it made it seem like a character flaw. The reason farmers are intent is simple. Weeds choke out the things we want to grow, be it the zucchini in the garden or the soybeans in the field down the road. Farmers have to manage them if we want to grow a crop. Perhaps that person has never tended a garden or weeded a flowerbed.

Rebecca French Smith, of Columbia, is a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.

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