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Farmers Up Against a Major Thorn In Their Side: The Thistle

Piet Grobler

Last summer's drought killed off much of the competition for weeds. That means that this year, one weed in particular has been a real thorn in the side of Missouri farmers:  the thistle.  

Tim Schnackenberg is an agronomy specialist with the MU Extension in Lawrence County.

“Farmers and landowners will tell you that they’ve seen so many of them, and had to fight them so hard this year,” Schnackenberg said. “It’s been, in some cases, a losing battle.”

The thistle is a tall weed with a pink flower that drops seeds into the wind, causing more thistles to pop up nearby. The unwelcome pests are showing up in rows of crops, and in pasture where livestock graze.  Schnackenberg said cows generally won’t go near thistles, because the plant is covered in thorns.

“And so, that’s real estate. When it really adds up, that’s real estate that’s being invaded and not used,” Schnackenberg said.

Some farmers have tried to dig the thistle out from the roots. Others have mowed them down multiple times, or sprayed with weed killers.  MU Extension offices have been helping farmers battle the thistles with a variety of tools.

Schnackenberg said battling these thistles has led to a loss of productivity on many farms in the Midwest.