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NMSU team is regional winner at 2011 WeedOlympics

It is unlikely that many people are even aware that there is a WeedOlympics, but four New Mexico State University students - Heather Bedale, Joni Blount, Andy Dyer and Drew Garnett - earned the top undergraduate score of all western region teams at the first-ever event recently. In addition, NMSU WeedOlympics team captain Blount had the top regional individual undergraduate score, with teammate Garnett taking second place honors.



NMSU's WeedOlympics team earned the top score among undergraduate teams in the western region at the WeedOlympics held July 26-27 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Pictured during the weed identification event are, from left, Drew Garnett, team captain Joni Blount, Andy Dyer and Heather Bedale. (Courtesy photo.)

Other teams affiliated with the Western Weed Science Society were from Washington State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State.

Phil Banks, an adjunct professor in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Weed Science and president of a local agricultural and environmental consulting firm, was the team's head coach; Jill Schroeder, professor and interim department head of EPPWS, supported the group as assistant coach.

The event took place at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville July 26-27, drawing around 150 students from U.S. and Canadian universities affiliated with the four established academic weed science societies representing northeastern, north central, southern and western regions.

"I was pleased that all of our hard work really paid off," Blount said. "Our success shows that if you put yourself out there and really compete, good things can happen. It took a lot of gumption to pull this together so quickly. I think participating was good exposure for us as individuals and for NMSU."

Competitions in the agricultural realm are not uncommon, as anyone familiar with 4-H is aware. Numerous universities field equestrian and rodeo teams. But more academically oriented competitions don't get much attention. Blount said that her experience on NMSU's Linnaean team as a member of the Entomology Club gave her good preparation for the sort of competition involved in the WeedOlympics. Insects are the focus of Linnaean teams, which are involved in competitions organized through the Entomological Society of America.

This was the first competition for an NMSU weed team since 1988, according to Banks. He had previously coached a team at the University of Georgia while a professor there in the 1980s. He and Schroeder decided late in the spring semester to try to organize an NMSU weed team and put out a call for interested students.

According to Blount, the team got together with the coaches twice weekly during the summer to prepare for the four WeedOlympics events: identifying weeds, herbicide injury identification, sprayer calibration and farm problem solving. They used field guides and online resources to familiarize themselves with varieties of weeds, especially ones not found in New Mexico.

"They had to be able to correctly identify 25 species of weeds that could have been at any stage of growth - from seed to mature plant," Schroeder said. "They had to learn to identify over 100 species in order to prepare for just this portion of the competition."

Blount said they gained familiarity with herbicides and sprayers at the weed garden at NMSU's Leyendecker Plant Science Center. To prepare for the problem-solving event, they accompanied Banks on some of his farm consultations, where they pitched potential solutions for the problems they encountered.

"The students learned a great deal from the competition," Banks said. "The undergraduates compete in the same events as the graduate students, so the difficulty is high in all of the events. I'm most proud of how well the students did in the team calibration event (40 out of 50 points)."

Banks said the future of WeedOlympics has yet to be determined, and if it is repeated in the future it may well not be an annual event. He would like to continue coaching a team, though.

"We do hope that we can take an NMSU weed team to the North Central Weed Contest next year in Kansas," Banks said.

For more about the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology, and Weed Science, visit the website at http://eppws.nmsu.edu.