- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Rio Arriba County rancher Delfin Quintana remembers buying hay for his cattle several years ago. It wasn’t long before the 80-year-old realized he got more than he had bargained for with those bundles.

Noxious weeds started popping up on the range where his family has ranched for more than a century.

“That’s where it all started. Then the seeds spread and you’re dispersing it when you’re putting (the hay) out for the cattle,” Quintana said. “The problem, it’s bad. … The weeds are very dominant and aggressive. They take over other plants.”

Soil and water conservation districts have teamed up with federal, state and local land management agencies to create noxious weed management areas throughout New Mexico. Currently, 14 cooperative weed management areas have been created in 17 counties.

Management areas are sprouting as quickly as the weeds they’re working to battle.

Three years ago, the state had only four noxious weed management areas. By the end of this summer, the number will increase to around 17, said Jim Wanstall, Los Lunas-based state noxious weed coordinator for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

Battling invasive weeds is the bane of landowners and agencies, from national forests to farmland to backyards across the country.

For agricultural producers, the challenge lies in keeping noxious weeds out of crops, fields and livestock forage. Invasive weeds can mean lost revenue.

“That cost can come in two forms: the cost of eliminating and controlling the weed and the cost of the loss of production,” Wanstall said. “If you want grass to feed cattle, it can interfere with production of that forage. And some of the (noxious) plants are toxic, and that’s another way you can suffer losses. They can kill an animal … and humans,” he said.

Tomas Gonzales, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Espanola, said invasive weeds can also rob fields of nutrients, water and pesticides and result in crops that are not as desirable at market.

Quintana said it’s expensive to battle the weeds on his land.

“The herbicide we’re using is very expensive, around $400-and-some dollars per gallon, and you use around a gallon every six acres. And I have to pay for that,” he said.

The most critical first step in attacking the weeds is to correctly identify the plant, learn about its growing habits and contact weed management areas for assistance, Gonzales said.

Based on the plant’s growing habits, management approaches can include spraying, mowing, plowing, planting a competitive grass to choke out the plants or rotating crops.

“It depends on the situation. Each one of the plants grow differently,” Gonzales said. “Eradication is possible if the infestations are small, and the best way is early detection.”

Gonzales and Tony Valdez, Rio Arriba County extension agent with New Mexico State University, work with landowners to identify noxious weeds and advise how to control them.

Valdez said private landowners can rent equipment through the management areas to do necessary plowing or spraying to keep noxious weeds under control.

Wanstall said awareness is key to preventing declining land value and productivity for farmers. For example, they need to pay attention to the hay they buy and wash down equipment when moving from one field to another.

This year, Wanstall and his colleagues contracted with NMSU’s Spatial Applications Research Center to set up a database to collect information and find out how much acreage is affected by noxious weeds and what specific species are involved.

He hopes the database will be ready for management areas this summer.

Quintana said one the best ways to combat noxious weeds is to get neighbors to work together.

“We can kill it off every five years, but the biggest problem is the neighbor that doesn’t take care of it. It will end up on our property,” he said.

Quintana said he thinks it’s possible to eradicate noxious weeds in his area.

“It certainly would make things a lot easier for me,” he said.

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