Introduction

Weed scientists usually cite pervasive crop yield losses due to weeds and substantial direct and indirect costs of weed control to justify research and extension budgets (see Chapter 1). Reductions in costs and yield losses should also be used to evaluate the progress of scientists in solving weed problems. Ultimately weed costs to agriculture are determined by how farmers and ranchers manage weeds, not by papers published or field days organized. In temperate and tropical regions, field crop farmers who use mechanization, cattle ranchers, dairy farmers, vegetable and fruit growers, and smallholders on hillsides all devote time and resources to weed management. What is the role of research and extension in enabling this wide diversity of farmers to manage their weeds better.?

This chapter examines the implications of farmer-extensionist-scientist interactions for the development of improved weed management. The first sections review historically how humans have learned to manage weeds. The chapter then analyzes scientist, extensionist, and farmer perspectives on weeds. The final sections describe how farmers, extensionists, and scientists can collaborate to develop field- and farm-level weed management strategies better adapted to weed patchiness and uncertainty. Case studies from the USA and Central America illustrate possible working relations among scientists, extensionists, and farmers.

Three principles for making the on-farm management of weeds more efficient and cost-effective, less risky, and more environmentally sound figure prominently in the chapter:

1. Farmers play a crucial role in the development of weed science. They invent, adapt, and modify weed management techniques. To do this, they employ varied approaches including observation, logic, experimentation, extrapolation, and calculated risk-taking. They integrate information and recommendations from diverse sources, make decisions at scales of operation not generally addressed by the research and extension system, and form effective farmer-to-farmer communication networks.

2. Programs to improve weed management by farmers should focus on strengthening farmer decision-making. A process termed participatory learning for action illustrates an approach for strengthening farmer skills for goal-setting, experimentation, observation, record-keeping, and analysis, all key elements in decision-making. In this process, groups of farmers meet at critical moments before, during, and after the crop cycle to discuss current and alternative crop and weed management practices. Initially farmers analyze their personal and business goals, propose experiments, and suggest criteria for the evaluation of their decisions. During the crop cycle, farmers work as a group to improve their ecological reasoning through observation of weed composition and behavior across a spectrum of fields. They link observations with practices and evaluate the timeliness and effectiveness of each other's decisions. At the end of the crop cycle, they formulate improved weed management strategies based on their conclusions and propose a study plan for the next crop cycle.

3. Weed science can benefit from a learning process that strengthens extensionists' and scientists' links with the temporal and spatial scale of farmer decision-making. In a routine of regular interaction over several crop cycles, groups of farmers with research and extension cooperators can develop farmer- and researcher-initiated experimentation, field-scale monitoring, and analytical methods of crop and weed decision-making. This co-learning can contribute to the general effectiveness of the weed research and extension system by making it more responsive to the concerns of broader sectors of producers and society.

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