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A University of Missouri professor is studying ways to manage weeds at railroad crossings. Reid Smeda, professor of plant sciences for the university's College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR), is focusing his research on new weeds that encroach upon railroad environments, such as herbicide-resistant weeds that spread from nearby fields of agronomic crops. For example, water hemp has become an issue at crossings in recent years. So has a plant called teasel, which can grow up to eight feet tall. It has few natural enemies, and can crowd out native plant species and spread rapidly, according to Smeda. Rail crossings are an ideal place for weeds to grow because seeds and fertilizer transported on trains may fall from rail cars. Few herbicides on the market now specifically target railroad weeds because the products are expensive to develop, Smeda said in a press release.To fight hard-to-kill weeds, Smeda recommends railroads change herbicides every three years to slow the selection of resistant plants, and use mixes of three or more herbicides to target particularly hardy weeds. His research also explores how spraying herbicides at different points in the weeds' lifecycle can kill them with fewer applications. Smeda is conducting his research by running tests at two rail yards in Kansas City and northeastern Kansas, and at railroad crossing simulations he created at CAFNR's Bradford Research and Extension Center. By observing weeds throughout their lifecycle, Smeda can compare different weed-management strategies over time.
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