Super weed spreads closer to Quad Cities

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A destructive so-called "super weed" is winding its way into Midwestern crops.

Palmer Amaranth is now in six Iowa counties, 28 Illinois counties and spreading.

A Muscatine County farm is like a crime scene on Monday.

"At first, I didn't know what it was," said farmer Roger Hargrafen.

Red flags mark the culprit in his field.  It's a menacing weed with the aristocratic name, Palmer Amaranth.

"I better check that out," he said.

Hargrafen, who first identified the weed in 2013, now adds detective work to his chores.

"It just keeps emerging," he said.

Experts call it a super weed because it chokes crops and doesn't respond well to herbicides.

"They are very aggressive," said Virgil Schmitt, an Iowa State agronomist studying the situation.

Schmitt thinks Palmer Amaranth came to Iowa through hog feed. Tiny seeds spread quickly.  A cutting from Hargrafen's farm could top seven feet.

"It was not a question of if it would get here," Schmitt said. "It was when."

Hargrafen is doing what it takes. That includes spraying, planting cover crops and hand-weeding.

While the three-fold approach seems to be working, he must keep eight acres crop-free for at least another year.

"The challenge is going to be sure it doesn't become a big problem," Schmitt said.

Now that it's near the Quad Cities, Palmer Amaranth will keep spreading. It's like a repeat offender on the move.

"I'll always be looking for it," Hargrafen said.

This is the second year for the super weed in Iowa.  It's been especially troublesome in Southern U.S. cotton fields.

"Be very alert and  treat aggressively while it's in a small area," Schmitt advised. "That's what Roger is doing."