Farmers struggle to find immigrant labor supply

“Imagine going to bed at night and not knowing if you’re going to have enough people to help pick your crops.” That’s how Bernie Thiel, a farmer from Lubbock, Texas, describes the challenge farmers face in finding enough labor to run their operations.

Farmers in the south typically use a lot of immigrant labor, but it’s become harder to find the help they need. This is why agriculture across the country is watching the nation’s immigration debate, and wondering if workers will be available in the future.

Bernie Thiel, Jr.

Bernie Thiel, Jr., farms near Lubbock, TX, and is having a hard time finding enough labor to complete his harvests every year (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

“Being in the business as long as I have, I’ve got people who’ve worked for me for 25 to 35 years,” said Thiel. “These are laborers who come from Mexico every year, and they’ve shown up for a long time. The problem is my labor force has gotten older and harder to come by now.”

Said Thiel; “There’s no new generation of laborers since the Reagan years, when we got amnesty in 1986. That’s where a lot of the hands I’m using now came from. I do get a few of my hired hands that have families and will come over and help.”

“As far as finding help locally, it’s virtually impossible,” said Thiel. “I do advertise on the radio. I had it on two Mexican-American stations all summer long, from the start of the season to the end. When the season ended up, I didn’t have one hand from those advertisements, and never kept a hand that did show up for more than two weeks.”

Other industries have begun to compete for immigrant labor, and it’s affecting farmers all over the country.

“In the last few years, we’ve had a demand for more laborers because of the oil industry,” said Bernie. “That has pulled some of my labor. Not a great deal of it, but my gosh, they start their workers at 18 to 20 dollars per hour.”

“Reading through some of the different periodicals, it’s not just me,” said Thiel. “This is happening nationwide. I read an article about a strawberry farmer in

Strawberry farming is an expensive proposition, and a California farmer spent 25,000 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and then plowed it under because of no labor available labor help (photo from mommasgottabake.com)

Strawberry farming is an expensive proposition, and a California farmer spent 25,000 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and then plowed it under because of no labor available labor help (photo from mommasgottabake.com)

California that plowed up 20 percent of his acreage. Keep in mind, it can cost up to 25,000 dollars an acre to grow strawberries.”

Thiel said he knows the sickening feeling that the farmer from California experienced.

“I’ve had to plow up squash for the last three years because I can’t find help,” said Bernie. “Of my normal plantings, I’ve had to plow up quite a bit because I couldn’t get it picked. This was marketable product that I already had a home for, but couldn’t get it harvested.”

Produce farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of a labor shortage. It’s hitting the dairy industry hard too.

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer from Cochran, Wisconsin, and he said the downturn for labor has gone on for several years.

“About 10 to 15 years ago, the local labor force dried up,” said Rosenow. As a result, the Wisconsin dairy industry became stagnant. People were afraid to grow their operation because they couldn’t find any help.”

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who’s having a hard time finding enough labor to help on the farm.  He’d like the nation’s immigration policy changed in order to assure a reliable supply of help for years to come (Photo from wisconsinwatch.com)

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who’s having a hard time finding enough labor to help on the farm. He’d like the nation’s immigration policy changed in order to assure a reliable supply of help for years to come (Photo from wisconsinwatch.com)

He said, “At that point, we discovered that Mexican immigrant labor was fantastic. They do an incredible job, work really hard, and they’re reliable. At that point, many operations began to hire Mexican labor, and the industry began to grow again.”

“Things improved, people started expanding, and the dairy industry improved in Wisconsin,” said Rosenow.

As the nation’s immigration debate continues, the labor force is once again shrinking in Wisconsin, and dairy farmers are feeling the pinch.

“Generally, everyone is short one or two people,” said Rosenow. “It’s because the inflow of Mexican labor from the south has dried up quite a bit.”

John said, “A large part of the downturn stems from border security. It’s a lot harder for people to cross the southern border. The fact that it’s gotten so much harder gives people less hope that they can come be part of this economy and industry.”

The need for reliable farm labor is growing again. “As far as people to milk the cows day in and day out, feed the calves, clean the barns, and other chores like that, I have not found anyone worth hiring, other than immigrant laborers, over the last 10 to 15 years.”

“If society wants to have an abundant supply of safe, wholesome food, produced here in the United States, which helps keep America secure, we have to have labor to do it,” said Rosenow. “That labor is going to have to come as immigrants.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on February 9

Farmers and agriculture professionals can hear about the latest nutrient management research regarding fertilizer use efficiency at the sixth annual Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on Monday, February 9, 2015, at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato.

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

The conference will examine current nutrient management issues in a rapidly changing production environment. The program will focus on nitrogen and phosphorus management from commercial fertilizers and animal manures. Speakers will provide an in-depth approach to various management practices for these important nutrients. Sessions will also address fertilizer industry trends, micronutrients, and the effects of cover crops and changing weather on fertilizer management.

Speakers include fertilizer industry professionals, staff from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and extension research specialists from Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin. The conference is organized by the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center.

There is no fee for attending the conference. However, pre-registration is requested for event planning purposes. To register, visit the conference website and follow the links online at www.mda.state.mn.us/nutrientconference.

MDA-logoYou may also register via e-mail at nutri.conf@state.mn.us or by calling the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Ryan Lemickson at 612-209-9181. When registering, please include your name, organization, address, phone number, and email address.

Minnesota Grown Directory seeking new members

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is updating its popular, statewide, MDA-logoMinnesota Grown Directory filled with direct to consumer farms and farmers markets. Membership and Directory listing are open to Minnesota producers who grow or raise products. The 2014 edition promoted 978 farms and farmers markets. Minnesota Grown has more than 1,200 members including fruit and vegetable farms, livestock producers, farmers markets, CSA farms, orchards, garden centers, farm wineries, Christmas tree growers and more.

170,000 copies of the Minnesota Grown Directory are released annually in April and distributed statewide in tourist centers, libraries, chambers of commerce, farms, and retailers. Farms who advertise in the printed Directory are also included in the online edition, which was redesigned and had more than 290,000 unique visitors in 2014. The new, mobile friendly, website was improved to simplify searches for Minnesota products and farms.

 

“The demand for local foods has increased dramatically the last few years,” said Ag Marketing Specialist with the Minnesota Grown Program, Jessica Miles. “Our Directory is the most comprehensive and commonly used guide to local foods and plants available in Minnesota. It’s also becoming an excellent resource for family activity ideas and learning opportunities.”

 

While memberships are accepted year-round, farms must sign up or call Jessica Miles by February 6, 2015 to be included in the 2015 printed Directory.

“For $60 farmers can get an entire year’s worth of advertising both online and in print,” said Miles. “They’ll also have access to other great Minnesota Grown member-only benefits, such as use of the trademarked logo and FREE stickers, price cards and other promotional items. Just don’t delay and call right away because the deadline to be included in the printed Directory is February 6, 2015.”

 

Potential new members may sign up and pay online by clicking on the “Members & Retailers” tab at www.minnesotagrown.com, then clicking on “Become a Member” or contact Jessica Miles at 651-201-6170jessica.miles@state.mn.us to request an application by mail or with questions.

 

MDA Weed of the Month is Yellow Starthistle

January’s Weed of the Month, yellow starthistle (Centurea solstitialis), is a toxic plant that infests millions of acres in the western United States. It is native to Eurasia and was likely brought to North America as a contaminant in alfalfa. Though widespread throughout the western states, there are no known populations in Minnesota.

Yellow starthistle has many characteristics that favor its invasiveness. The plant is an aggressive colonizer of pastures, grasslands, ditches, and disturbed areas. It produces abundant seed for reproduction and the seed remains viable for 10 years. The seed spreads by wind, water, vehicles, wildlife, and by moving contaminated soil and hay. Yellow starthistle depletes soil moisture and decreases species diversity. It is also highly toxic to horses, causing a fatal nervous disorder called “chewing disease”.

This noxious weed on the eradicate list has distinctive identification characteristics. It has yellow flowers with sharp spines at the base of the flower. The spines can injure eyes, noses, and mouths of livestock. An annual plant, it forms a rosette in the fall with lobed leaves. When it sends up the flowering stem in the spring and summer, the branches and stems are rigid and spreading. The stems and leaves are covered in white hairs that give it a grayish color.

Yellow Starthistle

Yellow starthistle flowers have sharp spines that can injure grazing animals. (Photo contributed from the Minnesota Department of Ag)Invi

Residents of Minnesota are asked to be on the lookout for yellow starthistle and to report sightings to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Management strategies are aimed at preventing seed formation and spread, and include the following:

  • Buy certified seed to plant hayfields and pastures.
  • Clean equipment, boots, clothes, after being in an infested area.
  • Prescribed burning can be used to effectively manage yellow starthistle.
  • In addition to prevention and cultural management, herbicides can also be used. For specific herbicide recommendations, please contact you regional University of Minnesota Extension Educator.

As a noxious weed on the eradicate list, all above and below ground parts of the plant must be destroyed. To report infestations of yellow starthistle or any other noxious weeds on the eradicate list, please contact Arrest the Pest by voicemail at 888-545-6684 or email at arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us.

Candidates sought for four Minnesota commodity councils

MDA-logoThe Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) will conduct a mail ballot election to fill board vacancies of four commodity research and promotion councils. Candidates are selected through mail ballot elections set for March 2015.

The Barley, Beef, Corn and Soybean Councils are seeking candidates. The candidate registration deadline is February 5, 2015. These farmer/leaders serve three-year terms directing the investment of their Research and Promotion Councils’ check-off programs.

 

Those interested in running for an opening should contact the council listed below to be referred to their nominating committee chairs. Open positions include:

 

 

Barley Research and Promotion Council, vacant positions:

 

District 1: Beltrami, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Pennington, Red Lake, Roseau

 

District 2: Clearwater, Hubbard, Mahnomen, Norman, Polk

Barley Research and Promotion Council office:  800-242-6118 or 218-253-4311

 

Beef Research and Promotion Council, vacant positions:

 

District 1: Becker, Clay, Clearwater, Kittson, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, Roseau

 

Districts 2, 3: Beltrami, Cass, Cook, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, St. Louis

 

District 5: Benton, Carver, Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Morrison, Renville, Scott, Sherburne, Sibley, Stearns, Todd, Wadena, Wright

 

District 7: Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Rock

 

District 8: Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Rice, Steele, Waseca, Watonwan

 

District 9: Dakota, Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, Winona

Beef Research and Promotion Council office:  952-854-6980

 

Corn Research and Promotion Council, vacant positions:

 

Districts 1, 2, 4: Becker, Beltrami, Big Stone, Cass, Chippewa, Clay, Clearwater, Douglas, Grant, Hubbard, Itasca, Kittson, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Otter Tail, Pennington, Polk, Pope, Red Lake, Roseau, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wilkin, Yellow Medicine

 

Districts 3, 5, 6: Anoka, Aitkin, Benton, Carlton, Carver, Chisago, Cook, Crow Wing, Hennepin, Isanti, Kanabec, Kandiyohi, Lake, McLeod, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Ramsey, Renville, Sherburne, Sibley, St. Louis, Stearns, Todd, Wadena, Washington, Wright, Scott

 

District 8: Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Rice, Steele, Waseca, Watonwan

 

District 9: Dakota, Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, Winona

Corn Research and Promotion Council office:  952-233-0333

 

Soybean Research and Promotion Council, vacant positions:

 

Districts 1, 2, 3: Becker, Beltrami, Cass, Clay, Clearwater, Hubbard, Itasca, Kittson, Koochiching, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, Roseau, St. Louis, Cook, Lake

 

District 4: Big Stone, Chippewa, Douglas, Grant, Lac Qui Parle, Ottertail, Pope, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wilkin, Yellow Medicine

 

District 7: Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Rock

 

District 8: Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Rice, Steele, Waseca, Watonwan

 

District 9: Dakota, Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha, Winona

Soybean Research and Promotion Council office:  888-896-9678 or 507-388-1635

 

Farmers who voted last year will receive ballots by mail, but those who did not vote last year can request a ballot from the above commodity council offices by February 5, 2015.

Diesel prices head lower, but for how long

Diesel prices have been trending lower for a couple of months now.  They’ve finally begun to follow gas prices lower at the pumps, but the big question is this:  How long can diesel and energy prices in general trend lower?  It’s a big question at this time of year for farmers who want to start contracting ahead for spring needs in 2015.

As part of a story assignment for the Midwest Producer newspaper, I caught up with Tracy Haller, the Energy Procurement and Marketing Manager for Farmway Cooperative in north central Kansas.  She said it’s hard to know what’s ahead without a crystal ball, but in the short-term, prices may continue to soften, but there will be a definite price floor for crude, and you’ll know when it hits.  Give a listen to my weekly podcast:

Tracy is the Energy Procurement and Marketing Manager at Farmway Cooperative, with 37 locations in north central Kansas (photo from www.farmwaycoop.com)

Tracy is the Energy Procurement and Marketing Manager at Farmway Cooperative, with 37 locations in north central Kansas (photo from www.farmwaycoop.com)

 

 

 

 

 

I would absolutely love to hear any ideas on podcast stories and guests you’d like to hear from on my website.  Please email me at chadsmithdad@gmail.com

 

 

Calling all farmers to Winter Workshops in January

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The dark days of winter can be a great time to learn new things, so the Minnesota MDA-logoDepartment of Agriculture (MDA) is again providing farmers a day of Winter Workshops in January. The MDA will offer six workshops covering a diverse array of farming topics on Thursday, January 8, 2015 at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Workshop details and online registration are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/amdor by calling 651-201-6012 and requesting a “Winter Workshops” brochure. The workshops include:

All Day (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

The Nuts and Bolts of Running a CSA, presented by Mark Boen and Bernard Crosser of Bluebird Gardens, Cost: $50

 

Transitioning to Organic: From Deciding to Doing, presented by Carmen Fernolz of A-Frame Farms. Cost: $50

 

Morning Workshops (9 a.m. to Noon)

Grazing Basics, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Cost: $25

 

Reality Checking your Farm Plan, presented by John and Lisa Mesko from the Sustainable Farming Association of MN (SFA). Cost: $25 (free for SFA members)

 

Afternoon Workshops (start at 1:30 p.m)

Fine Tune Your Grazing System, presented by Vermont grazing and organic consultant Sarah Flack. Ends at 4:30 p.m. Cost: $25

 

Save Your Own Seed, presented by Koby Jeschkeit-Hagen from Seed Sages and Tiny Diner Farm. Ends at 3:30 p.m. Cost: $25

 

While they immediately precede the two-day Minnesota Organic Conference to be held January 9-10, also in St. Cloud, these workshops are designed to benefit all kinds of farmers. Minnesota Organic Conference details are posted at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic.

Add a Minnesota grown Christmas tree to your shopping list

Minnesota Christmas tree growers look forward to another great season of local, fragrant Christmas trees thanks to overall good growing conditions this year.  Many tree farms are stacked with a variety of trees and ready to go.

Christmas trees

Minnesota grown Christmas trees are in good supply for the holidays (photo from Minnesota Farm Guide)

Happy Land Tree Farms Owner, Ken Olson shared, “Thanks to all the rain we had on our farm, our trees are in really great condition. We had a great growing season and our new plantings did well.”

The 8-12 year growth of Christmas trees poses a unique marketing challenge, “Christmas tree growers look far ahead to estimate customer preferences,” said Minnesota Grown Spokesman, Paul Hugunin.  “Farmers provide continuous care and attention to each tree as it matures.”  Trees are formed and sheared over time to help create the iconic Christmas tree shape shoppers desire.

The Christmas tree industry supports the local economy and provides environmental benefits. Christmas tree farms replant one to three new seedlings for each tree cut, and local trees travel short distances to consumers to maintain freshness and can be recycled after the holiday season. While the seedlings mature into trees, they act as a carbon-sink: pulling pollution produced carbon dioxide out of the air. Additionally, trees can provide habitat for wildlife.

Beyond beauty, sustainability, and economic benefits, Christmas trees support holiday traditions and family fun. For more than 40 years, Connie Anderson and her family have been selling Christmas trees and wreaths at Anderson Tree Farm in Isanti, “Many of our customers are families and individuals who return each year. We cherish these relationships and are happy to support holiday memories and traditions.”

Many Christmas tree farms offer a fun experience for the whole family (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag website)

Many Christmas tree farms offer a fun experience for the whole family (Photo from the Minnesota Department of Ag website)

 

Many tree farms offer fun family activities such as sleigh rides, games, gift shops, and visits with Santa. They can also be a source for local gift ideas: wreaths, garlands, ornaments, and holiday decorations. The Minnesota Grown Directory has 60 Christmas tree farms and retail tree lots. Consumers can easily find a fresh, local Christmas tree using the Minnesota Grown online Directory at www.MinnesotaGrown.com, or order a FREE printed copy by calling 1-888-TOURISM.

Lake Pepin phosphorous study vindicates Ag

“Phosphorous is an essential element, and we find it in everything,” said Ashley Grundtner, a former graduate student at the University of Minnesota. However, too much phosphorous has been finding it’s way into lakes and rivers in the Midwest for years, and it’s causing a lot of problems.

Algae bloom is a natural consequence of too much phosphorous in water, and Lake Pepin on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border is a good example. The bloom threatens fish and can negatively affect recreational activities. For years, agricultural runoff was considered the only culprit, so researchers began studying other factors that may explain the increase.

“For 20 years or so, many folks have said Lake Pepin was filling up, and in 1988, they had a big fish kill there,” said Dr. Satish Gupta, the Raymond Allmaras Professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water, and Climate. “That led to a whole series of studies by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that decided phosphorous was the problem.”

“I had been working on the source of sediment going back to 1994,” said Gupta. “That was the first year that MPCA came up with the report blaming agriculture for the sediment and phosphorous in the Minnesota River and then in Lake Pepin. Farmers were saying it’s not the agricultural land, it’s the banks along the river that was a bigger source.”

Sloughed River Bank

A sloughed tall bank along the Blue Earth River in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Satish Gupta)

He said, “When we started working on this, we took a look at the riverbanks and noticed they were bare. Every year, we get a new crop of dandelions, so we wondered why they weren’t growing on the banks. The answer is simple: they are very unstable and they come down every year. There isn’t enough time for vegetation growth.”

In 2005, Gupta and his students began a four-year study of several rivers in Blue Earth County to determine how much of the riverbanks were running off into the waters. “We found that 2.24 million cubic yards of soil was gone during that time,” said Gupta.

“The next question was how are bank materials reacting with the phosphorous in river waters,” said Gupta. “We knew when you apply fertilizer on the land, particularly phosphorous, it ties up pretty fast. There’s only a small amount for the crop to use, so they have to apply it again next year, and the next year after that.”

That’s what led to Ashley’s graduate thesis paper on the source of phosphorous in Lake Pepin. “If the riverbanks are absorbing the phosphorous we put on our farm fields, are they absorbing other sources of P too?” said Satish. “What is the role of sediments in the riverbank material in picking up phosphorous?”

Ashley Grundtner

Ashley Grundtner collecting sewage effluent sample along a drainage ditch in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Drew Kessler)

“We looked at historical records, and we found our rivers had been very polluted going all the way back to when Minnesota was a territory,” said Gupta. “Rivers were thought of as a conduit to carry waste away from the cities. They had virtually every kind of contaminant in the waters.”

Gupta said, “They didn’t have toilets to carry waste to a treatment plant back in that time period. Waste went directly into the river, and phosphorous is very common in sewage.”

South Saint Paul had a large meatpacking industry right on the Mississippi River. Gupta said, “It was set up on the river so they could push their waste in. Ice was also available in the wintertime to preserve meat.” He added, “Records show an ammonium phosphoric fertilizer plant was built along the Mississippi River south of St. Paul. We were not careful about what we put into our rivers.”

“Phosphorous is a basic element you’ll find everywhere in geology,” said Ashley Grundtner, who graduated with a Masters Degree in Water Resource Science in 2013. “We wanted to find out what were the natural levels of phosphorous in riverbank material. What happened to the material when it went through a river process? We then considered human input, like pollution, and what happened to it when it went into a river,” she said.

The group considered basic things like total P in the rivers and riverbanks, and how the riverbanks would absorb Phosphorous, and how much capacity the material had to store the element. From the different scenarios they worked on, they determined levels in Lake Pepin prior to and after 1850.

A tall sloughed bank along the Big Cobb River in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Drew Kessler.)

A tall sloughed bank along the Big Cobb River in Blue Earth County, Minnesota. (Photo taken by Drew Kessler.)

The results of their work, published in the Nov-Dec Issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, showed that fine particles carrying P from eroded riverbanks was the main source of P in Lake Pepin before 1850. After 1850, the human element of pollution added to the levels of Phosphorous available for rivers to carry to Lake Pepin. “The rivers became increasingly polluted, and these riverbank materials are picking it up,” said Gupta. “River modification through locks and dams has added to it as well. Coarser materials are going to get stuck behind the dam, and there was more phosphorous in smaller amounts of fine particles going downstream.”

“Ashley’s paper has shown that most of the phosphorous in the Lake Pepin sediment is industrial and a sewage-phosphorous material, which was picked up by riverbank materials. That doesn’t mean there’s no other source, but that’s a big part of it,” said Dr. Gupta.

November Weed of the Month: Black Swallow-wort

by Emilie Justen, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

(This is part of a series of regular columns by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on the state’s noxious weeds.)

Black Swallow-wort

Black swallow-wort vines with flowers (Photo from the Mn Dept of Agriculture)

A member of the milkweed family is November’s Weed of the Month. Black swallow-wort (Cynanchum louiseae), also called dog-strangling vine, is a perennial, herbaceous vine that can form large patches and crowd out native vegetation. It was introduced to North America from southern Europe in the 1800s as an ornamental plant, and in 1864 was recorded escaping from a botanic garden in Massachusetts. Since its introduction to North America, it has been found invading abandoned farm fields, pastures, and prairies throughout the Eastern and Midwestern United States.

Black swallow-wort has twining stems up to six feet long. It has dark green, glossy foliage and star-shaped, dark purple flowers with a yellow center. The flowers are only 1/8 inch in size, and develop into a milkweed pod to disperse its seed by the wind.

The plant poses many ecological threats to the Midwest. It outcompetes native plants by forming a large root system that exudes chemicals to prevent other plants, such as the native butterfly milkweed, from growing. Black swallow-wort also threatens monarch butterflies by crowding out native milkweed host plants. In addition, female monarchs will lay their eggs on black swallow-wort but the plant is lethally toxic to the caterpillars after they hatch and begin feeding.  It can also thrive in wooded areas to form a monoculture in the forest understory. In Minnesota, black swallowwort was found growing on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus and successful eradication efforts kept the infestation from spreading.  There are two reports of isolated infestations in Minneapolis.

Black swallow-wort’s characteristics make it a challenge to control. It grows over other vegetation to block light and create tangled masses. As a target weed on Minnesota’s Noxious Weed Eradicate List, it is required by law that all above- and below-ground plant parts must be destroyed. Recommended management practices for black swallowwort include the following:

  • Pulling the plants by hand can be difficult and cause resprouting.
  • Burning and grazing have not shown to be effective.
  • Foliar and cut stem herbicide applications can be effective. For specific herbicide recommendations, contact your University of Minnesota Regional Extension Educator.
  • All management practices for black swallow-wort should include yearly monitoring to ensure the depletion of the seedbank.

To report infestations of black swallowwort or any other noxious weeds on the eradicate list, please notify MDA by email at arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us , or voicemail at 1-888-545-6684 (toll-free).