Lee County, GA (WALB) – South Georgia farmers are having to pull a destructive breed of weeds by hand to save their cotton and peanut crops. Pigweed is resistant to the herbicides that farmers have used for decades, and causing a real financial problem in the state's number one industry, agriculture.
Dozens of workers pull pigweed plants from a cotton field in Lee County. The pigweed is documented to be resistant to common herbicides like roundup that South Georgia farmers have relied on for years.
But now it has no effect on these plants except at a very young stage. So the farmers have to go back to ancient farming techniques, pulling them up by hand.
Research Agronomist Wilson Faircloth with the U.S.D.A.'s Peanut Lab is working daily to find an solution to dealing with what he calls nature's perfect weed. "This is one. A palmer amaranth, as it's more properly called."
Pigweed has adapted to be resistant to common herbicides that farmers have used for years. Pulling one up, Faircloth says he can see where this pigweed was treated and kept on growing to more than four feet tall.
"This plant was probably treated one time actually, as evidenced by all the branching, but it survived and kept going to make it an even more aggressive weed," Faircloth said.
The pigweed grows taller than cotton or peanuts, cutting them off from the sun and nutrients, and it spreads relentlessly.
"A plant like this can produce thousands and thousands of seedlings each and every growing season. So this one week can infest this field in just a matter of a year or so."
Researchers have been working on ways to deal with pigweed in recent years, but they say there is no magic bullet new herbicide to deal with the plant.
"So the best thing we need to do is rotate our crops and rotate the herbicides we use. No be dependent on one particular herbicide year after year after year."
The pigweed kills the crops and will create huge problems during harvest, so farmers are having to pull them by hand to deal with the plant. Researchers continue to try to find a better answer, but say they worry the pigweed problem is going to be the big issue for South Georgia farmers for years to come.
Faircloth says pigweed is the issue that South Georgia farmers are addressing right now. He says even the ditches between Terrell and Macon Counties are choked with pigweed, as they spread relentlessly.