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Frank Forcella earns Weed Science Society of America's Fellow Award

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 05/20/2013 9:33 AM

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MORRIS, Minn. — No matter where USDA-ARS Soils Lab research agronomist Frank Forcella is in the world, there's one thing he notices in the landscape — weeds!

"When I visit another country, the people may look different and talk different, but they have the same types of weeds," said Forcella who has studied weed physiology and control for much of his 30-year career. "I recognize the weeds and I feel at home."

His peers recently presented him with the Weed Science Society of America's Fellow Award.

"This award is based on your entire career," he said. "It's something you never dream of getting when you are younger. But it is truly an honor to be recognized in this way."

Forcella has been an adjunct professor at both the University of Minnesota and South Dakota State University. His wide-ranging research program emphasizes the management of specialty oilseeds and the ecosystem services provided by crops.

He has served as editor for "Weed Science" and for "Weed Research." He's received other awards form WSSA for outstanding papers and research.

Forcella's career started in the 1980s when he was hired to survey new invasive weed species in five northwestern states.

"The researchers I worked with were agronomists who knew about wild oats, but they weren't trained to look for new things," he said. "My job was to explore the northwest looking for weeds that might be invasive."

He loved it.

"We got a lot of information and found certain species that appeared to have just arrived in the U.S. We developed some theories on what would be the bad boys and which were benign."

The experience got Forcella interested in weed science. He traveled to Australia where he worked with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia's national science agency. His efforts focused on weed ecology, he said.

It was a beautiful country and is where he met his wife, Jessica. After three and a half years, he missed home. The couple moved to the United States

and e worked at the University of California-Davis before moving to Morris and the research projects at the USDA-ARS Soils Lab.

Forcella prides himself in weed identification.

He can name weeds he sees on the roadside while traveling down the road, he said.

"I may not get the species right, but I get close, " he said. "Almost all weed scientists are the same way. When we had a visitor form Argentina, he looked at the ground and identified similar weeds to ones they had in Argentina."

His research can take conventional approaches, and then there are times when Forcella's imagination takes over and he discovers new, imaginative weed-fighting methods. Take, for example, his work on weed control in organic systems.

Forcella was simply harvesting a bumper crop of apricots with his wife in 2007. While they used the meat of the fruit for jams, jellies and sauces, they ended up with pails of pits.

At work, he was considering weed control methods for organic farmers when he thought about the apricot pits. What if he sandblasted the weeds using an organic grit like groundup apricot pits.

A colleague at South Dakota State University, with an grad assistant, built a sandblaster. They put together a machine with eight nozzles that could handle the grit and wipe out the weeds. Through continued research, they found that two sandblasting applications work well in weed control. For soybeans, the first applications takes place at the one leaf stage and the second application at the five leaf stage.

Forcella notes that the results are still preliminary, but the early testing is yielding good results.