WAHPETON, N.D. -- Will weed resistance problems bring back migrant labor as farmers need assistance cleaning their fields of potential plagues of glyphosate-resistant waterhemp or common ragweed?

Marisol Marquez thinks it's possible. She is a client service representative in Wahpeton, N.D., for Motivation Education & Training Inc., a nonprofit organization helping agricultural families connect with work opportunities, obtain job training for that work or other options, or acquire emergency help.

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MET has North Dakota offices in Wahpeton, Fargo and Grafton. The 501(c)(3) organization is funded by public and private grants and contracts. MET was created in 1967 and operates in Texas, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Marquez, who grew up in a migrant agricultural family, and Sarah Smith, a core service specialist coworker, say there are early indications of a trend. Some workers have called from as far away as Texas, before coming north. Others just stop by, or get referrals from the Job Services of North Dakota Workforce Center in Wahpeton.

"Between us and them, we try to find employment with the field work, and then we offer assistance as far as the training," Marquez says.

Becky Lankow, a customer service consultant, with Job Service North Dakota in Wahpeton, says in the past several years, the office has gotten three or four requests per month for workers to clean weeds from fields.

"In August, we had three requests, all to weed generally in soybeans, some in sugar beets," Lankow says.

If there are three farmers looking for workers, she estimates she sees a corresponding three or four families with a total of maybe 25 workers seeking that kind of work.

The MET office caters to individuals who have had an agricultural work background within the past 24 months.

Somalian immigrants are among the groups Marquez has seen in the office, often looking for work that might be available seasonally for the sugar beet processing cooperatives.

Hispanic groups and families are typically the ones seeking weed work in the fields, she says. Since July, the MET office has serviced more than 100 people who are working in the field now.

"I've seen there's an increase in families coming into this area, being they've been called by some farmers," Marquez says. "There's a greater need to clean fields out as more weeds are starting to grow. The chemical they've been using hasn't been working as well."

Slowed demand

Marquez says more than 20 years ago there were hundreds and thousands of Texas Hispanic migrants that would come to the Red River Valley to do weed control and thinning of planted sugar beets.

Three things changed that caused migrant demand to decline. First, technology allowed farmers to plant their beets more to the final population that precludes being thinned by migrants. Then, university weed specialists developed micro-rate herbicide programs to kill weeds without harming delicate beets. Finally, starting in 2007, farmers in the U.S. started using glyphosate-resistant sugar beets.

It isn't clear whether farmers will be enthusiastic about relying on a migrant workforce to solve weed problems.

Chris Johnson, a Great Bend, N.D., farmer, says he's been working to avoid problems with herbicide-resistant weeds for several years. He says he's been employing pre-emergent herbicides with some success, and has done some roguing, or removing weeds with a hoe himself.

"I think the next step for us would be the next generation of chemistry for soybeans," Johnson says, noting there are still options to use products like Enlist, which is 2-4,D tolerant, Envive which is Dicamba-resistant and LibertyLink which is resistant to Liberty herbicide.

Johnson says he knows some farmers have had good luck with migrant workers, but he's looking for technology and chemical solutions.

Mikkel Pates is a staff writer for Agweek. To subscribe to the weekly agriculture magazine, call (800) 811-2580 or email subscriptions@agweek.com.