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ARS focuses on weed research

USDA's Agricultural Research Service is taking steps to review its weed science research programs in order to develop a more unified plan for the future, says Robert Hedberg, Washington director of science policy for the Weed Science Societies of the United States.

“Despite the fact there is a great deal of weed science research that goes on in the ARS, with probably 80 scientists working on weed issues, there is no single national, cohesive program to pull all this together within the agency,” he told members of the Western Weed Science Society at their annual meeting.

Hedberg, who last year was part of a program planning committee to hold a workshop to bring in outside authorities to help the ARS address its weed science portfolio and determine where weed science programs are going in the future, says the outcome, “I think, is very good for us.

“One positive development is that from the 150 people who attended the workshop, including approximately 100 from outside the ARS, we now have a unanimous expression of support for a national weed science program. That's a statement of stakeholder interest that the ARS is not ever going to be able to deny as they start evaluating their structure for the future.”

The ARS has taken “a very strong turn” toward bio-based pest management strategies, Hedberg notes. “While that's not bad, it was coming at the exclusion of some of the focus on what should be done with herbicides. The reality is that they are the core of weed management today, and a recent National Academy of Sciences study said they are going to be the core of weed management for the foreseeable future.

“So, refocusing the ARS' efforts and paying attention to be sure herbicide research is integrated with all the other research in their portfolio is going to be a top priority for the agency in the future.”

Even though weed science organizations “have made a lot of headway” in bringing about this change, Hedberg says “there's still a lot of work to be done. We're going to have to keep bird-dogging the issue and be sure the ARS listens to what the other stakeholders say.

“But, we've basically got on record what people would like to see in their program, and I would encourage everyone to work with ARS management at the area director level in order to provide input into these programs.”

All of the recommendations “make infinitely good sense,” Hedberg says, “but we have to keep asking for it in order to overcome the agency's inherent resistance to change.”

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