By Celeste Baumgartner
COLUMBUS, Ohio – As of August 15th, Dr. Alyssa Essman is The Ohio State University’s Extension weed scientist, taking over the role from Dr. Mark Loux, who recently retired. Essman has a healthy respect for weeds.
“They’re very adaptable and very good at being plants,” Essman said. “Compared to other plants that we study, they have some sort of biological characteristic that gives them an advantage. Plus, they are very rapid to evolve. Any prevention tactic we throw at them, they are eventually able to overcome one way or another, whether that is by emerging earlier or later, or developing resistance to the herbicides we are trying to use.”
But Essman was not always into weeds. She grew up on a farm in Circleville. Her parents are Donald and Laura Lamb. She was active in 4-H through middle and high school, showing, of course, lambs. She was not in FFA because she wanted to be a nurse and doubled up on science classes in high school.
“I started at OSU in the nursing school,” Essman said. “When we started clinicals I found that while I could deal with livestock pretty well, humans are different. I passed out at every single clinical we had.
“I did some soul searching; I’ve always loved agriculture,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to work with people so I decided to get back to that. I did my bachelor’s in agribusiness at Ohio State. During that time, I did an internship with the weed science program while I was an undergrad and was able to do a master’s and a Ph.D. with them.”
As Essman was finishing her doctorate, five OSU weed scientists retired. Essman spent a year as a visiting scholar and taught some classes. Then her mentor, Loux, retired and she stepped into the position of Extension weed scientist.
When Essman began her ag studies, she wanted to focus on cover crops and alternative weed management systems, she said. Biological and cultural controls can give farmers some help along with chemicals to control weeds.
In her new role, Essman wants to continue to find ways for growers to manage weeds. She wants to continue working with cover crops. A big part of her role is providing leadership for the herbicide evaluation trials and in doing that, she is constantly evaluating the programs that growers are using.
“There is also a lot of new technology right now in the weed science world,” she said. “Things like weed zappers, and post-harvest seed destructors. This is an interesting sort of new technology that came out of Australia.”
The seed destructor attaches to the back of a combine and as the chaff is running through the combine it exits out through the seed destructor, she explained. This piece of equipment grinds up the chaff and in the process, it grinds up the weed seeds.
“The goal of our program is to help find options for growers however they choose to manage their weeds,” Essman said. “If it is a more traditional program, providing both chemical and alternative methods, or for organic programs finding solutions for those growers and also non-GMO.”