Every first Wednesday in August for the past 30 years, unbeknownst to the majority of the agriculture industry, a contest plays out in a hot, sticky southern field that helps forge the next generation of weed scientists. It’s the Southern Weed Contest, put on annually by the Southern Weed Science Society.
"For people who haven’t done it before, it can be pretty tough – and demoralizing," says Greg Stapleton, senior technical service representative with BASF, which hosted this year’s event at its Holly Springs, N.C., research farm.
Top graduate students from 10 southern schools compete for individual and team prizes, including the coveted Golden Hoe award that travels back to the winning school. Competitors are judged on weed identification, sprayer calibration, crop response to herbicides, crop/weed situation/recommendation and the dreaded "mystery event."
This last category is the consensus toughest, as it simulates a rare but real problem a farmer could potentially run across in his or her fields. Competitors have 15 minutes to interview the farmer and try to determine a diagnosis.
"The people who did the best in this exercise were the ones who stayed out there the whole time and asked the right questions," says Greg Armel, technical market manager, BASF. Armel adds that this exercise is also quite practical for the students, as he estimates that Extension specialists spend at least 25% of their time fielding farmer questions.
This year’s winning school was the University of Arkansas, with Virginia Tech University coming in second and Mississippi State University coming in third. Arkansas student Chris Meyer took home overall top individual honors. Next year’s Southern Weed Contest is set for Aug. 6, 2014, at the Agricenter International in Memphis, Tenn.