By Renita D. Young and Tom Polansek WINTERSET, IOWA (Reuters) - A U.S. government program designed to convert farmland to wildlife habitat has triggered the spread of a fast-growing weed that threatens to strangle crops in America's rural heartland. The weed is hard to kill and, if left unchecked, destroys as much as 91 percent of corn on infested land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is spreading across Iowa, which accounts for nearly a fifth of U.S. corn production and in 2016 exported more than $1 billion of corn and soy. The federal Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to remove land from production to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and protect endangered species. The destructive weed - Palmer amaranth – has spread through seed sold to farmers in the conservation program, according to Iowa's top weeds scientist, Bob Hartzler, and the conservation group Pheasants Forever. "We are very confident that some of these seed mixes were contaminated," Hartzler said. Hartzler, an Iowa State University agronomy professor, said one seller was Allendan Seed Company, the state's largest producer of local grass and wildflower seeds for conservation land. In written responses to questions from Reuters, Allendan said it was "possible that pigweed seed ... was present in some mixes." Palmer amaranth is a type of pigweed. Allendan did not confirm it had found the seed in any of its supplies. It said outside labs that the firm hires to test seed quality had been unable to distinguish Palmer amaranath from other pigweeds. The company said it started using a new DNA test in February to check its seed for Palmer amaranth. Many farmers joined the conservation program in the past year as prices for their crops tanked amid a global grains glut. The weed can be killed, but the cost of clearing it would be another hit to the cash-strapped farming community in the United States, the world's top corn supplier. The program is managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), units of the USDA. NRCS officials have acknowledged that contaminated seed mixes for conservation land have spread Palmer amaranth. In another state, Minnesota, authorities are also investigating whether the conservation program inadvertently introduced the weed to that state. Keith Smith, a corn and soybean farmer in Gladbrook, Iowa, said he yanked Palmer amaranth out of land he set aside in the conservation program after finding the weeds last year. He doused them in diesel and torched them with old tires. Smith now regrets joining the program. "I thought I'd help out the Earth," he said. 2016 Conservation Reserve Program - http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/USA-GRAINS-WEEDS/010040ES0YN/index.html ONE PLANT, HALF A MILLION SEEDS The NRCS and FSA denied responsibility for the infestation because they do not supply or test the seed that farmers use to turn cropland into a refuge for wildlife. Landowners are responsible for finding their own seed. None of the companies or organizations involved in the program should be blamed, said Jimmy Bramblett, the NRCS's deputy chief of science and technology. "It's just something that happened," he said. The NRCS is nonetheless considering giving financial assistance to Iowa farmers to help control the weed and is working with the farming community and other government agencies to control it, Bramblett said. Palmer amaranth, which is native to the southwestern United States, grows up to 2 inches (5 cm) a day and can reach a height of 10 feet. It produces up to 500,000 seeds the size of a pepper grain, which travel easily on the wind, in manure or stuck to farm equipment and vehicles. Midwest farmers now face increased costs for the herbicide and labor to eradicate the weed. Fighting Palmer amaranth has doubled or tripled annual herbicide and labor costs to between $60 and $80 per acre for cotton farmers in Georgia, said Stanley Culpepper, a weed science professor for the University of Georgia. Iowa farmers currently spend between $35 to $40 per acre on herbicides, Iowa State University research shows. If Palmer amaranth is firmly established, costs could increase by up to 50 percent, Hartzler said. Corn and soybeans can compete better with weeds than cotton plants, so the expense of controlling it could be less than on cotton farms. DETECTIVE WORK Palmer amaranth first arrived in Iowa in 2013 but exploded across the state last year, spreading from 5 to 48 of the state's 99 counties, according to Iowa State University. In at least 35 of those counties, the weed was found on land in the conservation program. The rapid rise in the incidence of the weed came after landowners in Iowa signed more contracts to put fields into the program than any other state - 108,799 out of the 637,164 total U.S. conservation program contracts, according to the USDA. An Iowa landowner contacted Iowa State's Hartzler after Palmer amaranth infested 70 acres of farmland he planted with the conservation seed mix. "The Palmer amaranth was uniformly distributed across those 70 acres, so that was a good sign that it came in the seed," Hartzler said. Hartzler said he and his intern found the tiny black Palmer amaranth seeds in samples they took from seed bags the landowner purchased from Allendan. He then grew some of the seeds in a greenhouse, he said, and they produced Palmer amaranth. (Editing by Jo Winterbottom, Simon Webb and Brian Thevenot)
- Fox News
Police arrested an ex-con killer this week just over a mile from the house where four University of Idaho college students were killed in their sleep last month.
- NBC Sports BayArea
The 49ers passed on Tom Brady during the NFL free-agent signing period of 2020, and Brady continues to play like a quarterback in his prime with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- The Telegraph
On a feisty night full of tantrums, Argentina kept launching toys out of their pram even as Lautaro Martinez thrashed in his winner to send them through 4-3 on penalties. It had been 120 minutes of argy bargy, with a ball smashed into the dugout and bookings all over the pitch as a so-far serene World Cup finally lost its rag.
- The Hill
The brother of former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia for nearly four years, slammed former President Trump on Friday after Trump criticized the Biden administration for the deal it struck to free WNBA star Brittney Griner but not Whelan. David Whelan said in a post on Twitter that Trump seems to…
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez mocks Kyrsten Sinema's announcement to leave the Democratic Party and register as an independent: 'She lays out no goals for Arizonans'
Sinema's party switch comes as she's up for re-election in Arizona in 2024 in what's likely to become a competitive race.
"Every time she washed her hair she got cold and would get a chill," her lawyer told ESPN
- BuzzFeed News
Prince Harry Said The Royal Family Didn’t Think His Relationship With Meghan Markle Would Last Because She Was An Actor
“The fact that I was dating an American actress was probably what clouded their judgment more than anything else at the beginning.”View Entire Post ›
- USA TODAY Opinion
Sinema is ditching the Democratic Party because she figured she can’t win a primary or she no longer needs the party for her next move – or both.
- The Telegraph
Prince Harry appeared annoyed with his wife at one point in their new Netflix documentary when she joked about having to curtsey to the late Queen.
Ivanka Trump & Jared Kushner Ditched Their Usual PDA & Reportedly Acted 'Cold' Towards Each Other During Recent Public Outing
The holidays can be a stressful time for any family and Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner may have a bit of the blues right now. They attended a yacht party in Miami recently and the air around the normally affectionate couple was apparently a bit chilly. A Page Six source described them as “cold” around […]
- In The Know by Yahoo
Not everyone was on her side.
- Yahoo Sports
DEA agent who helped put Viktor Bout behind bars slams Brittney Griner swap: ‘We couldn’t even get two people for the world’s most notorious weapons trafficker’
Foreign policy experts warn the release of Viktor Bout could incentive future kidnappings of Americans.
- Women's Health
Brie Larson is super sculpted from her abs to her legs in an orange bikini in new Instagram pics taken in a sauna. Brie opts for unconventional workouts.
- Miami Herald
A snake-wrangling couple got a big surprise the other day in Southwest Florida.
- ABC News
After long refusing to commit to accepting the results of her race if she lost, Republican Kari Lake on Friday filed the legal challenge she's been threatening in the aftermath of losing the Arizona governor's race. A civil complaint was filed Friday with the Maricopa County Superior Court naming Secretary of State and Democratic governor-elect Katie Hobbs, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, Elections Director Scott Jarrett and both the office of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and individual members. There are multiple falsehoods and distorted assertions included in the lawsuit that echo the failed legal challenges brought by former President Donald Trump’s team to overturn the 2020 election.
- Lebron Wire
Warriors superstar Stephen Curry gave his all-time starting five - but it didn't include LeBron James.
Brittney Griner, the American basketball star imprisoned in Russia, was released on Thursday (Dec. 8) in a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer whose notoriety earned him the epithet “Merchant of Death.”
- The Telegraph
Watching the opening segment of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s docuseries, I thought for a moment we were about to get Meghan and Harry's very own version of The Crown. As they began to hint at the pressures of being royal it seemed we were about to be taken through a kind of inside story, a no-holds-barred account of what it’s really like to be in The Firm. Something, at least, that lived up to the drama of the documentary’s controversial trailer. A few more minutes in I was less certain.
- Business Insider
Apple exec who was fired after being caught on video joking about fondling 'big-breasted women' says he stayed up all night trying to get the TikTok down before it went viral
Tony Blevins said an Apple executive reached out at 1:30 a.m. telling him to get rid of the TikTok immediately. He said he was later fired over it.
- LA Times
Brittney Griner's release from Russia in a high-profile prisoner exchange should be celebrated, not disparaged by reactions reeking of bias and bigotry.