The elimination of virtually all funding for weed science in the federal budget is being strongly opposed by the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA). The group issued a protest to USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
“If the budget moves forward as proposed, critical work that impacts our food and water supplies and our natural ecosystems will remain unfunded,” says John Jachetta, WSSA president.
WSSA urges USDA to restore funding along with the Aquatic Plant Management Society, North Central Weed Science Society, Northeastern Weed Science Society, Southern Weed Science Society and Western Society of Weed Science.
Some of the most urgent, near-term challenges weed science needs to address were pointed out in a letter from the societies to Roger Beachy, NIFA director:
• Herbicide resistance. Resistant weeds continue to evolve and will overrun long-established cropping systems unless new, integrated weed-management programs are developed and adopted.
• Organic weed control. Weed control is the organic grower’s No. 1 production cost. To meet the demand for organically produced food, farmers need new and effective tactics for managing weeds without herbicides. An over-reliance on cultivation alone can increase soil erosion, reduce soil quality and increase energy consumption.
• Climate change. As weed species respond to our changing climate, new management tactics are needed to protect food supplies and to sustain both fiber and fuel production.
• Protection of water supplies. Unchecked invasive weeds continue to threaten wetlands and waterways that are vital to our potable water supply, hydroelectric power, flood control, conservation and endangered species restoration.
The letter also highlights recent reports from the National Academy of Sciences and USDA itself, which underline the critical need for weed science research.
“Weed scientists are mystified and disappointed by USDA’s decision,” Jachetta says. “If officials consider weed management a solved problem, nothing could be further from the truth. Today, well over half of all pest-related crop losses can be attributed to weeds. Abandoning our commitment to weed science at a time when our weed management challenges are growing is a potent recipe for a crisis of national proportions.”
WSSA asked USDA to make three changes:
1) Add a foundational program within the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) to address weedy plant biology, ecology and management, similar to those focused on phytopathology and entomology.
2) Reconfigure larger AFRI research programs to encompass the full breadth of ag sciences. Currently, program objectives are written narrowly, excluding weed science and many other important areas of study.
3) Restore funding for integrated activities under the Section 406 Legislative Authority, which supports integrated weed management research through initiatives like the Regional IPM Centers, Risk Avoidance and Mitigation Program, Crops at Risk and Organic Transitions Program. Funding for these programs was zeroed out in the president’s FY 2011 budget.
“We hope that reason will prevail and that funding will be restored,” Jachetta says. “Otherwise the weed science discipline may be crippled for generations to come.”
Letters of support for weed science funding can be directed to: