It's the Incredible Hulk of the weed world.
Known as pigweed, this undesirable plant is much like the Marvel comic character in that it's big, green and just about impossible to kill.
"We hate it," said Tim Southard, a Henderson County farmer who spent several hours Thursday morning among his soybeans trying to eradicate the weed by hand. "It's getting out of control."
"In the last three years, I've noticed it pick up," said Charles Alexander, a Henderson County farmer. "Pigweed is a problem in soybeans because herbicides for corn fields will eliminate them. If you have beans, the chemicals won't kill the pigweed."
"It's pretty time consuming to eliminate them by hand," Alexander said. "In the south, they've paid people to go down the rows with a hoe and cut the weeds out."
What exactly is pigweed?
"Pigweed is a broadleaf weed which is resistant to herbicides," said Brad Hagan, the Union County Extension Agent. "Attempts to control the weed have become a big issue. Each individual weed produces thousands of seeds so if you don't kill them they will go through the combine, shoot out the back and you have thousands of more weeds."
Camille Lambert, the Henderson County Extension Agent, said the particular variety of pigweed which is plaguing Henderson County farmers is called water hemp.
"The seeds are very very small. If one plant grows all the way to seed, and seeds fall to the ground, the problem will get bigger by a hundred-fold. A lot of the seeds get spread after the plants are allowed to grow to maturity in medians and ditches along roadways in the city and county, and then they get mowed. Seeds are spread that way. It's a very hard thing to control," Lambert said.
"The weed has to be controlled before it's 6-inches tall," she said. "Once it pops out of the ground you have about a week to eradicate it because it grows 2 to 3 inches a day. It's hard for farmers to get to them when they are that small because they are trying to get crops planted."
"Any weed will compete for sunlight, water, and nutrients and if it's really bad it can overtake certain parts of the fields" choking out the crops, Hagan said. "There's definitely a yield reduction with (pigweed) and with any outbreak of weeds. I've seen some really bad fields in Missouri, but driving around in Union County it appears our farmers have it under control."
"It's a pretty big issue in the boot heel of Missouri and in Tennessee," Hagan said. "If you don't control pigweed they'll seed and the problem will worsen. Since they are harder to control than most weeds, you spray them and it doesn't do anything to them. So farmers have to manage them differently and maybe spray multiple herbicides on them and really watch and scout their fields. A big part of it too is spraying them at the right size. Farmers are having to change their management practices on how they maintain their fields and watch their crops.
According to information published by the Purdue University Extension Office, "Palmer amaranth (or pigweed) is a prolific seed producer. Each plant can produce at least 100,000 seeds when they compete with a crop. In non-competitive scenarios, they can produce nearly a half-million seeds ... Palmer exhibits aggressive growth and competitiveness with crops. Under ideal conditions, Palmer amaranth (pigweed) plants can grow 2 or 3 inches per day."
"It's getting worse every year," Southard said. When Roundup was introduced about 20 years ago, the herbicide killed the weeds, he said.
"Over time, the weeds adapted and are now resistant to Roundup," he said.
Alexander and his brother, Paul Alexander, also spent time Thursday working to eradicate the weeds by hand.
"We used to do this as kids and I thought this was all over once Roundup was introduced," Paul Alexander said.
Although farmers acknowledge there is a pigweed problem in the region, they also say it's not nearly as bad here as in the southern part of the country.
"Mainly in the south, pigweed has been devastating to the soybean crops," Charles Alexander said.
It's in that region of the country, Alexander said, that a dispute arose over one of the few chemicals, Dicamba, that can kill Pigweed. He said Dicamba kills both pigweed and soybeans. However, a company developed a genetically modified soybean plant which is not affected by Dicamba. The problem arises when one farmer uses the GMO soybean plants and Dicamba to kill pigweed, but the neighboring farmer doesn't use the GMO soybean plants. Alexander said the Dicamba can drift to the neighboring farm and killing the non-GMO soybean plants.
According to an article published in October in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, one farmer shot and killed another farmer because of "Dicamba drift."
Hagan agreed that the use of Dicamba "is a hot topic right now."
While many support the growth of only organic crops, Lambert said that could result in very little yield.
"If we went organic and non-GMO, there would be no crops because these weeds are so vigorous. Pigweed takes all the sunlight, nutrients and water and chokes out the crops we want," she said.
"You can't kill pigweed without killing your soybean crops too," Alexander said.