Agriculture specialists share in MSU invasive plant research


Agriculture specialists share in MSU invasive plant research

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Agriculture specialists from across the nation gathered at a Montana State University research farm today.

It was all part of an annual crops and weeds field day hosted by the school.

Attendees took part in presentations showcasing research into issues like herbicide resistance and environmental conditions for crops.

Event organizer and cropland weed specialist Fabian Menalled tells us over 120 attended the field day.

"To learn what we are doing in Montana State, get a bit of the state-of-the-art of where research is and also to let us know what they want us to do. So if they have any concerns this is the perfect avenue to come and talk with faculty and grad students," said Menalled.

One concern highlighted at the field day was invasive grasses and weeds in Montana's ecosystem.

Jane Mangold is a rangeland weed specialist who presented Tuesday on research done to combat non-native weeds and grasses in Montana.

"They seem to be on the increase. Over the last 10 years we've been seeing more and more problems," Mangold told NBC Montana.

Invasive grasses and weeds spread through contaminated seed supplies and equipment and can have a major impact on farms and ranch operations, pushing out crops and grazing grasses for livestock.

"They tend to invade these systems and reduces forage that would be otherwise available," said Mangold.

Mangold says these plants are difficult to control with herbicides, saying they, "Damage our economy and our ecology of montana systems."

The costs to farmers and ranchers associated with controlling invasive grasses and weeds as well as a smaller yield can mean higher prices for consumers.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks estimates noxious weeds alone cost Montana farms and ranches $100 million annually.

"Reducing your yields, reducing the amount you're going to see back that year," explained MSU grad student Krista Ehlert.

Ehlert is working a field at the research farm. Her research examines how new herbicides might better control weeds, or how rotating crops might limit weed growth.

"Because you're going to be putting in more in terms of chemical and other methods to control these species," said Ehlert.

It's a problem that's reached beyond farms and ranches. Jane Mangold tells us invasive grass can cause erosion as well as damage wildlife habitats, making the problem ecological as much as economic.

"How do you put a number on quality of wildlife habitats or on clean water?" Mangold asked.

Agriculture is big business in Montana. According to a 2012-2013 state agricultural review conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 28,000 farm operations in the state of Montana.

Agriculture is $4.23 billion industry. Crops, including nurseries and greenhouses, make up $2.25 billion a year. Livestock and livestock products make up $1.97 billion.

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