By Mike Owen’s count, 77 of the 420 scientific papers presented at the recent Weed Science Society of America annual conference focused on herbicide resistance management.

The Extension weed specialist from Iowa State University also counted more than 806 papers presented since 1992 on the same subject at the society’s annual gatherings; 49 alone on herbicide resistant waterhemp.

And yet despite this voluminous body of information and research, the majority of waterhemp across the Midwest Corn Belt is resistant to at least one herbicide class, and some waterhemp is resistant to two classes. In all, waterhemp has been confirmed resistant to six herbicide classes.

Owen’s waterhemp tale is just one chapter in the herbicide resistance saga as reports from the society and other sources say as many as 220 million acres have been identified as containing herbicide resistant weeds.

This includes 376 resistant biotypes, 203 species (118 dicots and 85 monocots) resistant to one or more of 21 different herbicides.

Weed resistance to herbicides surfaced as an economic problem more than 30 years ago. Owen noted that weed science first addressed it in the 1980s when it created best management practices for warding off resistance to ALS inhibitor class herbicides, yet, “What have we done to address the problem since? Nothing,“ he answers.

It was a packed conference room that heard the veteran Midwest weed scientist chastise his profession.

He called herbicide resistance a “significant problem that is getting nothing but worse at an increasing rate,” he adds.

It is becoming more than a scientific or on-farm issue with a House oversight committee investigating USDA biotech regulation policies related to the growing resistance problem and national glyphosate stewardship forums. The term “superweed” is getting plenty of press in this political process.

It has grown to such a critical issue that the potential for government regulations to manage it is “more real than we want to imagine.” It could well be tied to the federal farm bill’s soil conservation title.

Owen said weed scientists have spent considerable time and money to change weed control practices to counter resistance while doing very little to change weed or vegetation management.