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Bio Cheatgrass Control

Control cheatgrass with a soon-to-be-available natural bioherbicide.

Ann Kennedy, recently retired soil scientist and microbiologist, was instrumental in discovering ACK55, a new weapon to battle cheatgrass.

Many ranchers and rangeland managers are trying to find ways to halt the prolific spread of cheatgrass and medusahead, and reduce these invasive weeds in areas that are already dominated by them. A new weapon in this battle is a naturally occurring soil bacterium, ACK55, which suppresses and inhibits root growth of these unwanted invaders.

Ann Kennedy, recently retired soil scientist and soil microbiologist from the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Northwest Sustainable Agroecosystems Research Unit in Pullman, Wash., was instrumental in discovering these helpful bacteria in her research that began more than 30 years ago. Today, her work is continued by Mark Weltz and others at the ARS Great Basin Rangelands Research Unit in Reno, Nev. This bacterial herbicide may soon be available on the market.

“We completed the last required evaluation of ACK55 as a bioherbicide, that the EPA wanted us to submit in our package for consideration for release,” says Weltz. “That paperwork was submitted at the end of February. We are now completing the application process, which takes time. Then the EPA will review it.”

Nevada is the epicenter of cheatgrass problems in the West.

“Our lab had already promised to work with Ann on field-scale trials. We are working with several ranches, private property owners, and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) that allow us to test it under different soil and climate interactions — and evaluate the efficacy of ACK55. This will be the last step before we can make recommendations on how, when and where ACK55 could be applied,” he says.

Photo taken one year after treatment with bioherbicide to control cheatgrass.

The bioherbicide, in liquid form, is sprayed onto areas dominated by cheatgrass.

“We are pursuing a series of different research thrusts, in addition to ACK55, so hopefully we can eventually have an integrated pest management program, using a little bit of this and that mixed together,” he says.

Using more than one tool could ensure a more successful outcome. Other tactics include strategic grazing and use of chemical herbicides followed up by seeding desired grasses.

“I don’t envision that we can be successful with just one ‘silver bullet’ that can completely control cheatgrass. I am also concerned that if we did actually find something that was absolutely outstanding and we killed all the cheatgrass, we could create a worse problem if we don’t have desirable vegetation to replace it. We could then end up with undesirable invasive plants like burr buttercup, tansy mustard, medusahead and other things that are not a sustainable grazing resource, and some that are possibly poisonous or injurious to livestock,” says Weltz.

There must be enough native plants still there to move into the gap, or a good seeding program to establish some desirable perennial plants to take the place of the cheatgrass that has been removed.

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Editor’s Note: Heather Smith Thomas is a cattlewoman and freelance writer from Salmon, Idaho.







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