Time to Rework Noxious-Weed Laws

Towering over soybeans, producing nearly one million seeds and decimating yields in its wake, palmer amaranth stares at you from your neighbor’s field. For now, your soybeans are safe, but with each passing season one weed turns into hundreds, thousands, until finally seeds move across the fence into your fields. 

Talking to your neighbors about weed control hasn’t resulted in action on their part. Are there other measures you can take before their weed problem becomes yours?

There might be, but noxious-weed laws need to be updated and enforced.

“The intent of the noxious-weed laws is to protect responsible landowners from ones who just don’t care,” says Bob Hartzler, Iowa State University Extension weed scientist. 

Stemming from the Plant Protection Act of 2000, the U.S. government designates specific plants as “noxious.” The federal law is aimed at preventing the introduction of weeds not yet found in the U.S. while state laws target weeds already here.

At the federal level, noxious-weed laws are current. Many weed scientists want to see states update noxious-weed laws to slow the spread of devastating weeds, such as palmer amaranth.

“Each state is going to potentially have different species on their list,” says Aaron Hager, University of Illinois associate professor of weed science. “The last time I saw a change on our list was when the state added kudzu over 10 years ago.”

Adding a plant to the list is no simple task—states must go through their legislatures and prove the plant is a detriment to natural or agricultural areas. By the time scientists can prove a weed is causing problems it has often spread to the point control is difficult, if not impossible.

“If laws were up to date, each county’s weed commissioner could put pressure to eradicate the population and eliminate it from the county,” Hartzler says.

Updating the laws isn’t the only obstacle: “There is very little enforcement because there is little funding,” Hager says, speaking specifically for Illinois. Other weed experts express similar frustration.

Many counties don’t have a weed commissioner or group focused on weed control. When that’s the case, individuals have to convince the county a weed is a big enough issue to take action, he adds.

Until noxious-weed laws are updated, re-examined and funded, farmers might need to take matters into their own hands.

“We know from surveys, farmer-to-farmer communication is one of the most effective ways to get information out,” says Kevin Bradley, University of Missouri Extension weed scientist. “Make a pact with one another to not let certain weeds spread.”

Peer pressure could prove to be a valuable tool for farmers in areas struggling to slow the spread of resistant or hard-to-control weeds. Talk to your neighbors—and not just the ones with weed problems. If more than one person puts pressure on a farmer with out-of-control weeds, he or she might be more likely to take action.

Take some time to explore whether there are noxious-weed laws for your county and state. Does your county have a weed commissioner? Find out how to enforce responsible weed management and preserve the yield potential in your fields. 


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