Texas Cotton growers, who produce more cotton than any state in the nation, may get relief from a growing pigweed problem if the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agrees to an emergency request for the use of propazine on 3 million cotton acres across the state.
Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) officials have asked EPA for an emergency permit to use the herbicide to help cotton producers stave off the growth of Palmer amaranth, which potentially threatens substantial crop losses this season.
The invasive pigweed has demonstrated a growing glyphosate-resistance problem in recent years and now threatens the Texas cotton industry. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA), the Texas cotton crop last year was valued at $5.2 billion.
Palmer amaranth, or pigweed, has gained its super weed reputation for good reason. It has been known to grow as much as three inches in a single day and to a height exceeding 10 feet under the right circumstances. With such a hefty growth rate, weed scientists say it robs the soil of nutrients rapidly, killing root systems of other crops and can even be damaging to farm equipment. In addition, propagation of seeds for a single plant can reach into the thousands, creating a tidal wave of infestation in a field within a short period of time.
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Propazine is very similar to atrazine, the primary ingredient in Milo-Pro, an EPA approved herbicide limited for use in grain sorghum in Texas and a number of other states. Milo-Pro is produced by Iowa-based Albaugh Inc.
EPA officials say propazine is not a new chemical. It was used extensively beginning in the 1950s but EPA cancelled registration in 1988 after chemical companies failed to provide data for a groundwater monitoring study.
Environmental groups have gone on record opposing TDA’s emergency request citing possible risk to human health because of the potential to contaminate groundwater. The chemical has been identified by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen.
A spokesman for Albaugh, Inc. says the company has had no issues with ground water contamination after conducting required testing. Mylo-Pro is used by corn growers in many states but banned by the European Union.
EPA began accepting public comment on TDA's emergency request on June 18. Texas cotton growers are hopeful the agency will expedite the emergency request in time for application on this year’s crop before it reaches maturity.
Texas Farm Bureau officials say weed resistance is a growing problem in the state and cotton growers across the region need another herbicide to address glyphosate-resistant weeds. A longer growing season in Texas has made the problem of weed resistance more intense across the region and farmers report they have been losing the battle in the fight against invasive pigweed.
“We were doing fine with Palmer amaranth when Roundup Ready came out, many of us thought we had died and gone to heaven. Because we had been fighting it tooth and nail and then all of the sudden there was this technology that solved all of our problems,” said Dr. Allen York, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University, during a crop tour last summer. “Life was good for a while, but we should have been smart enough to understand that we are going down the wrong path, relying entirely on one herbicide, and it eventually led to glyphosate-resistance.”
Scientists say weed resistance was not caused by the use of Roundup Ready but the improper use of the herbicide. In many instances, farmers over-used the product, which eventually lead to resistance problems.
In a recent farm tour, cotton farmer Curtis Storey lamented over his own over use of a single herbicide, and his failure to rotate crops often enough.
“We did it to ourselves as farmers. We relied on one crop too long and wore out the herbicide for that particular crop,” he said.
Storey, who had seen pigweed invasion on other crop tours, thought it would never happen on his farm. But out of the 4,500 acres of planted cotton, all but 60 acres were suffering from heavy growth of pigweed that threatened to destroy the crop—until university weed scientists stepped in and offered to help him recover from near-disaster.
His farm is now on the road to recovery.
In spite of the risks claimed by advocacy groups, weed scientists say a chemical approach to control and manage pigweed in commercial crops is necessary. When used properly and according to label instructions, they say propazine is an effective alternative in cotton.