Could you tell at a glance the difference between Queen Anne's Lace and poison hemlock? Could you calibrate a sprayer in 10 minutes, or recite the Latin name of common cocklebur?
Eleven University of Missouri students were called upon to do those things and more at the Collegiate Weed Science Contest, held in July at the Bayer Corp. research farm near West Lafayette, IN.
Reid Smeda, an MU weed scientist and chairperson for the Resident Education Committee of the North Central Weed Science Society, coaches the MU weed science team along with colleague Bill Johnson.
"Out of the 17 different awards given, we took five," Smeda said. "It was outstanding." The MU overall graduate team took first place, and Kaleb Hellwig of Butler, MO, took second place overall among graduate students category.
The MU undergraduates placed third as a team, with Curtis Scherder of New Hartford, MO, and Chris Schuster of Blackwater, MO, ranked first and third respectively in the undergraduate individual category.
Other MU students on the first-place graduate team were Brent Sellers of Columbia, J. Aaron Hoefer of Springfield, MO, and Keith Mohr of Burnside, IL. The undergraduate team consisted of Scherder, Schuster, Sarah Hans of Jonesburg, MO, and Many Kendrick of Monroe City, MO.
Teams from 14 schools in 13 Midwestern states competed, for a total of 91 contestants. Smeda, as committee chairperson, acted as "kind of the grand referee" along with Bayer farm manager Dave Doran, "who did everything from growing the weeds to supplying the refreshments," he said.
The first team event was field sprayer calibration. The four team members had only 10 minutes to calculate the correct settings, select the right nozzle tips and screens and attach them to the backpack sprayer. Later, the judges check the calculations and inspect the nozzles for proper operation.
The unknown herbicide contest was an individual event in which students were previously given a sheet listing herbicides used on the plots. "The student has to determine which particular herbicide was sprayed on a plot of land," Smeda said. "You have to look at all the symptoms. There are subtle differences between the ways different weeds react to different herbicides."
The written sprayer calibration event consists of solving problems involving herbicides and equipment. "All you have is a pencil, a calculator and a couple of different formulas to work with," he said.
In the weed identification competition, "the students must be able to identify a plant from its seed through the mature growth stage," he said. The student has to identify 25 weed species by both their common names and the Latin binomials. Common cocklebur, for example, is also known as Xanthium strumarium.
"Our students start preparing for this contest in May." Smeda said. "We have two or three study sessions a week, including Saturday mornings. We work with the students from May through mid-July."