Dr. Paul Neve speaks at annual David W. Staniforth Memorial Lecture

Annelise Wells

David W. Staniforth obtained his Ph.D in plant physiology at Iowa State and then became an instructor, researcher and leader in the weed science field. Ultimately, he was promoted to become a professor in 1960 and finished his professional career at Iowa State. 

For the past 28 years, the agronomy department has held a lecture in remembrance of the work he accomplished and the impact he not only had on the weed science field, but the impact he left on his students. 

This year’s speaker was Dr. Paul Neve, senior research scientist who focuses on weed ecology and evolution. Currently, he is the leader of the Smart Crop Protection at Rothamsted Research in the United Kingdom.

In his lecture “Weed Science: Running to Stand Still,” Dr. Neve discussed his experience in weed ecology, how herbicide resistance is evolving and what the future needs to look like to combat weed evolution.

In the weed ecology field as a whole, Neve said there has been a shift over the past 50 years.

“The scope has changed to a more physiologic focus rather than an ecology focus,” Neve said.

Dr. Neve’s research and studies focus on evolutionary weed biology and the rising resistance weeds have been showing to herbicides.

“The greatest current challenge to the current weed management paradigm is herbicide resistance,” Neve said.

One project he mentioned is the Black Grass Resistance Initiative (BGRI) that he is involved in. In England, Black Grass is one of the peskiest weeds that farmers face. It has an incredibly high resistance and this project is to figure out why that is from “gene to field.” 

Neve said weeds are winning this ecological arms race and that “clearly we need to do something.”

Before his closing statements, Dr. Neve said he thinks the weed science field is too polarized between the technological and ecological sides while looking for solutions.

“The truth is somewhere in the middle,” Neve said.

Looking ahead, Neve said the near future of herbicides may be more alarming than it appears at first glance.

“At best, the herbicide treadmill will allow us to be at a stand still for a few more years,” said Neve. “But new solutions that integrate technological and ecological approaches are desperately needed.”