Weed science doctoral students Sam Rustom and David Walker won first place and third place, respectively, at the Weed Science Society of America Annual Meeting in New Orleans from Feb. 11-14. They became the first students from the University to place at the competition for their oral presentations on the effects Florpyrauxifen-benzyl herbicide has on Louisiana aquatic weeds and crops.

Their adviser, AgCenter weed scientist Dr. Eric Webster, said he was proud of his students for their successes, which reflect well on the University’s weed science program.

“People are looking at the research we’re conducting,” Webster said. “It’s not just getting up and presenting the data, it’s knowing that data make sense. It confirms what we’re doing here.”

Rustom presented on the effects Florpyrauxifen-benzyl herbicide has on aquatic weeds in Louisiana rice fields.

Louisiana farmers often rotate crops within the same field because of their heavy crawfish production. Farmers may grow rice crops in the same field they produced crawfish in the previous season, which requires filling the field with water. The fields are only drained of water when farmers harvest crawfish or plant rice, so the different species of aquatic weeds that grow there are adapted to living in the water.

Webster said Rustom’s presentation focused on weeds that are not as common in other states.

“In Louisiana, we tend to have more aquatic-type species that tend to grow in full-time aquatic situations,” Webster said. “Sam was presenting on weeds that other states don’t really deal with. He figured out how this herbicide works on a spectrum of weeds that nobody else at the meeting was probably even talking about.”

Rustom researched how applying different amounts of Florpyrauxifen-benzyl affects the growth of aquatic weeds in Louisiana rice fields. Rustom said farmers can often apply the herbicide at lower rates than the label suggests. This reduces costs while still allowing farmers to maintain adequate control of their crops.

Walker’s presentation focused on the injurious effects of Florpyrauxifen-benzyl on non-targeted crops. Louisiana farmers often plant different crops in neighboring fields. When they apply the herbicide to one crop, the herbicide can move off target due to the weather or other application conditions. Walker researched how different rates and application timings of Florpyrauxifen-benzyl affected non-targeted soybean plants.

Rustom and Walker submitted the titles for their presentations in September and one-page abstracts the week before the meeting. To prepare, they reviewed their slides with Webster, who made suggestions on how to present their data.

Rustom used a different method of data analysis than most weed scientists use, so he spent extra time preparing to explain the statistical models in his presentation. Walker’s presentation focused on the effects of the herbicide on soybeans, so he had to take clear pictures of the plants and explain the injuries effectively.

At the competition, Rustom and Walker had 15 minutes to give their presentations in front of a panel of judges and answer the judges’ questions. Webster said the question and answer portion of the presentation is crucial. If competitors don’t repeat a judge’s question before answering it, it can be detrimental to their score.

“There’s such a fine line for judging these guys," Webster said. "There’s not a lot of difference in the quality of the presentation, so the judges are looking for any little thing to get you. If you don’t repeat a question, it’s almost death.”

Webster said Rustom and Walker’s preparation set them ahead of the other 500 competitors from universities around the U.S. and Canada. He is proud of his students’ success and the impact it will have on the University’s weed science program.

“It brings attention to the program,” Webster said. “When you’re in a meeting with that many people and two of your students place and people see that, that feels pretty good. It justifies what you’re doing.”

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