Protecting Wisconsin Growers: Waterhemp Research and the Partnership With UW-Extension

Categories: WSMB, WSPPublished On: November 21, 20232.6 min read

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Waterhemp is a growing concern for Wisconsin farms, as it is the most difficult weed species to control. Over the past six years, waterhemp has quickly taken off in local corn and soybean fields, causing large infestations and reducing crop yield. Dr. Rodrigo Werle, a UW-Extension weed specialist is taking point in investigating what is causing so many fields to be overtaken by waterhemp and how to prevent this weed species from developing resistance to herbicides. Thanks to the partnership between UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board (WSMB), Dr. Werle is able to launch his investigation into waterhemp immediately and find a solution as soon as possible. 

Waterhemp: A Challenging Weed Species 

When Dr. Werle first started out with UW-Extension six years ago, he distributed a survey to his peers and clientele to get a better understanding of what Wisconsin growers are dealing with and what their needs are. He found that a main concern of many farmers is waterhemp. At the time, the more prominent weed was giant ragweed, but Dr. Werle’s survey indicated that waterhemp was the next up and coming weed species that was going to explode in fields across the state.  

With this discovery, Dr. Werle immediately received support from the WSMB, who helped him get seed grants and hire research specialists to aid in the process of investigating waterhemp. Dr. Werle hopes to uncover new ways for growers to manage weeds and to find an alternative to the herbicide that many weeds are becoming resistant to: glyphosate. 

The Dream Team 

Wisconsin is very fortunate to have such a strong team of researchers who are able to support and find innovative solutions for the state’s soybean growers. Dr. Shawn Conley, Dr. Damon Smith, and Dr. Rodrigo Werle are all major players in the industry, and whose individual research interconnects. For example, early soybean planting, promoted by Dr. Conley, has implications for Dr. Smith’s research on seed treatments and Dr. Werle’s work on herbicides. Early planting means that seeds are exposed to cold soil and elements, requiring protection via seed treatments. Meanwhile, early application of pre-emergent herbicides could lead to degradation before weeds actively germinate, necessitating a reevaluation of herbicide delivery timing.  

Getting Ahead of the Curve 

Although waterhemp is the biggest concern right now in terms of weed infestation on Wisconsin farms, it’s important to be prepared for the future and what other problems growers can face. As an extension specialist, Dr. Werle has to have a balance between addressing current agricultural issues and anticipating future challenges. His work involves close collaboration with growers and crop consultants to stay informed about emerging trends and problems. When planning his agenda for the next year and what his focus should be, Dr. Werle aims to ensure that his recommendations remain relevant, not just for present-day conditions but also for what farmers might encounter in the next decade. 

To learn more about Dr. Rodrigo Werle and his work in weeds, visit wiscweeds.info. And to listen to the full podcast episode with Pam Jahnke and Dr. Werle, click here!