Palmer amaranth is a super-weed currently located in over half of Iowa counties and has been recently added to the Iowa noxious weed list. Palmer amaranth can grow two to three inches a day, reach a height of seven feet, and produce up to a million seeds per plant. This dangerous weed can also carry resistance to multiple herbicides and has devastated southern agriculture since the 1990’s. Even a moderately infested field can lead to 2/3 yield losses for corn and soybeans.
The Palmer Project began in 2015 as part of the Bryan Summer Research Program in Mathematics at Simpson College. This project started with the goal of creating a mathematical model to simulate the spread of super-weed Palmer amaranth across Iowa, but the scope of the project expanded due to the complexity of this problem. Now, with sponsorship from ADM and BASF, the Palmer Project is modeling the spread of Palmer amaranth across Iowa, collecting qualitative interviews from farmers, and working on an awareness campaign to create better weed management in the age of herbicide resistance.
What makes the Palmer Project different from most agricultural research groups is its interdisciplinary approach. The team, led by Dr. Clint Meyer and Dr. John Pauley, professors of environmental science and philosophy respectively, brings together students with nine different majors, from neuroscience to political science. The team blends both quantitative and qualitative methods together to better understand the story of herbicide use and resistance in the U.S. Corn Belt. The one-of-a-kind mathematical model visually depicts the possibilities facing Midwestern agriculture and opens the door for insightful conversations with local stakeholders. These conversations help the team adapt the model to be more accurate and expose further areas that influence the problem. The quantitative and qualitative methods continuously inform the other and work together to maximize the research’s impact.
The current team includes seven students that represent six majors and professors of Biology and Philosophy. Due to the contamination in CRP seed in 2016, Palmer amaranth has now been found in approximately 50 of 99 counties in Iowa. After discussions with Brady Spangenberg from BASF, the group is working on a new model based on predictive analytics, which is an inductive model of Palmer amaranth infestation density. In order to complete this project, we have several new student stipends and once again have funding from BASF and ADM. We hope to have the model mostly completed by the end of the summer 2017.
Our work from previous summers included creating a model and completing a survey and interviews with producers and other stakeholders. While the quantitative and qualitative aspects were both essential for our work, we are now doing more to integrate the qualitative data from interviews to inform the model, which will ultimately follow the methods of predictive analytics. Included in our range of interviews, Dr. John Pauley (Professor of Philosophy) was able to visit 3 research farms in the BASF European Farm Network in June 2017. The long-term goal is to add a comparative international component to our work.
With a generous grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the Palmer Project will also be hosting a conference, Combatting Herbicide Resistant Weeds and Palmer Amaranth: Multiple Perspectives, on January 4-6, 2018 at Simpson College. The call for papers will be out in July.
The members of the Palmer Project have given multiple presentations since they started their work. Most recently, they have presented at the North Central Weed Science Society Annual Meeting, the Iowa Philosophy Society Conference, and the Simpson Research and Creativity Symposium. For a full review of presentations and titles, click here.
For further information or questions regarding the project, please contact Clint Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or John Pauley (email@example.com). For more up-to-date information, visit the Twitter page: @PalmerProjectSC.