It doesn’t take you long to figure out the hemp sesbania (Sesbania exaltata) is one of the toughest weed problems we have in organic rice. It is an annual plant, but it acts like a tree as you can see in the picture. It has a few other names, but the most common other name I have ever heard is “coffee weed.”
In a recent meeting with organic rice producers this particular weed became a huge topic of discussion (mostly cussing). This conversation got me to thinking about the possibility of some “bioherbicide” or even some beneficial insect or nematode that might be able to control this noxious weed.
In the process of doing many searches, trying all kinds of names or phrases, I did find this article written in 2014, “Biological Control of the Weed Hemp Sesbania in Rice by the Fungus Myrothecium verrucaria.” (Just click to read)
The authors are at the USDA Stoneville, MS research station and do crops research but some of that research is on biological control of pests in crops. In this research they were looking at applying different rates of the fungus and at different weed plant heights. They looked at 3 concentrations of the fungus sprayed on weed plant heights of 4-8 inches, 8-16 inches, and 16-24 inches.
They did find that the best results were achieved when they used Silwet L-77, an OMRI approved surfactant, with the fungus mix. Overall, the fungus did best at the higher rate and on the youngest plants and control at that timing was 100%! That is phenomenal, but even the bigger plants had control levels around 90%.
Why don’t we have this fungus available to use? That is an excellent question and one I hope to find out soon. I am sure this research was put on the shelf because of changing rice herbicide strategies like Clearfield and the relatively small organic rice industry without much voice. But I think there is a growing interest in organic rice and as a result a growing interest in organic weed control in rice. More details are to follow!