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Land Offices against Ragweed PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 28 September 2006

In Hungary, the most unpleasant allergic symptoms are produced by common ragweed (ambrosia artemisiifolia). The number of people becoming allergic to the pollen of this plant has been growing year by year. In serious cases it can cause not only allergy but asthma too.

Ragweed prevention: Duties of the Land Offices

Éva Fülöpp, agriculturist and László Zoltán Kovács, division head (Pest County Land Office)

 The ragweed is a plant indigenous in North-America. It arrived at Hungary during the First World War through the seaports of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, together with corn shipments. In its first authentic description it was called Serbian weed – no wonder, it came from the south to Hungary. Its explosion-like propagation started after the Second World War. By the 1980 years, it occupied those regions of the continent, which were favourable for its reproduction like Hungary. In the Greek mythology, ambrosia is the food of gods, their drink is nectar – this contradicts our current opinion about ragweed/ambrosia. It is our bad luck that the hot summers and the rare rains of the Carpathian Basin that belongs to the continental climatic zone are very favourable for ragweed. To our special misfortune, the ragweed usually finds its ideal biotops in the areas where the plant cover was disturbed, the ground was broken, and the more, the fields were left fallow for several years. Seemingly, the agricultural reorganization that followed the drastic changes in the country’s holding structure can surely be one of the reasons of the explosive-like propagation of ragweed in our country.

The common ragweed is a large-size dicotyledonous weed that springs from one-year old seeds, pollinated by the wind.  Its seeds can survive in the deeper layers of the soil, conserving their productive ability up to 20-30 years. A plant of average size produces 3-4000 seeds, but some of them are able to produce 50 000 seeds too.

Legal background

In 2005, the Parliament passed the Act XXXVIII/2005, modifying the Act XXXV/2000 on plant protection. Its second chapter declares the priority of preventing the reproduction of ragweed in the interest of people suffering from allergy. The Act provides opportunity to cut down ragweed flowering also after 30 June in the infected areas and allocated money from the State budget. In rural areas, the land offices and the plant and soil protection services, in urban areas the notaries are responsible for performing the ragweed prevention programme.

This Act appointed the land offices as data providers that means the investigation of the ragweed infected areas, its surveying, digital photography, preparing on-site logbooks indicating the characteristics and identification data (parcel identification number, the owner of the real estate, data of registered user, client entitled to usufruct or widow’s right) and forwarding all data to the territorially competent plant and soil protection service authorized to issue the order for compulsory cutting of ragweed.


The infected area will be identified through determining the major corner point coordinates by manual PDA-GPS configuration, while the digital data will be forwarded through ragweed-server: this is the method and technology of the 21st century. The data supply will be realized as a closely coordinated activity of the three main fields of competence of land offices: land protection, land registration with land surveying and the land use registry. The land registration unit issues the property sheet, the land surveying unit the digital mapping datasets and the land use registry adds the data of the land user. The agriculturists of the land protection unit had graduated from higher education institutions; they will perform the on-site tasks and forward the data.

When checking the area, the agriculturists are concentrating not only on the investigation of ragweed infected parts. They are carrying out general on-site inspection to discover though not infected but unused and weedy areas, or those used for other purposes without permit, and so they will have the opportunity of starting official procedures against the owners to restore the original status of the land or fulfil the obligation of utilization according to the provisions respectively of the para 51. and 36. of the Act No. LV/1994 on the Agricultural Land.

Impressive numbers

Similarly to the previous year, the 12 district land offices belonging to the field of competence of the Pest County Land Office will treat the duties connected to ragweed prevention as priorities also in this year. The following diagram will show it:A 2005 és 2006. év eredményeinek összehasonlítása (szeptember 28-ig)

From the numbers of the diagram – and especially from the number of days spent with on-site inspections – one can conclude that the size of ragweed infected area has slightly been diminished, compared to the previous year. Its reason can be the weather in spring and early summer that was not favourable for the ragweed and – due to the sanctions of the last year – more owners and users obeyed the law.

In spite of these circumstances, the undivided, jointly owned areas affected by the subdivision of cooperative shares and compensation, and also the remaining parcels keep on being a problem. Beyond these, the areas with root crops, in certain cases also grain crops and stubble-fields are seriously infected with ragweed.

Hand-to-hand fight

In the case of undivided jointly owned lands – first of all where there is no user, and the land was left fallow, the natural grassland has not suppressed the ragweed yet – rare owner feels obligation of cutting. Namely, it often occurs that the individual owners own an area of some hundred square meters or less from a real estate of several ten hectares. The solution of this problem can be the completion of subdividing still undivided, jointly owned areas – this is under way – or the land consolidation, or voluntary land change aiming at land merger. Later on, the sanction would be performed individually, as the owners would be aware, for which piece of land they are responsible.

The propagation of ragweed in areas of root crops and grain crops unambiguously goes back to the bad agrotechnics and missing weed control before and after sowing, while in the case of stubble-fields it is caused by the delay of soil-preparatory work in autumn; this means a significant pollen production within a radius up to 100 km around the infected areas.

With the decrease of the size of infected areas compared to the last year, the number of reports by the citizens and civil organizations (first of all the Union for Ragweed-free Hungary) has increased. Based on the on-site inspections, it can be stated that the reports made by the citizens mostly relate to the small-size land parcels in the hobby-garden zone, the majority of which is not infected by ragweed at all, but by other sorts of weed. Consequently, the citizens are still not able to identify the common ragweed. The media could have a significant role in solving this problem, but sorry to say, the interviews and other ways of communication do not stress the introduction of the plant, the rules of law, the official procedures and the possible solutions, but only the advertising of the knowledge concerning allergy, other data not affecting the efficiency of ragweed prevention, but mostly with negative notes. In general, the media’s activity is very important, but they have hardly helped to diminish the serious ragweed infection of the country, and changing the attitude of landlords concerning ragweed control.

The district agriculturists are trying to investigate the areas of ragweed based on the reports of the citizens, those areas surveyed in the previous year and also the ragweed hazard map supplied by FÖMI in electronic form. This latter one shows the districts and can be downloaded from the ragweed server. The agriculturists working in the fields are examining the ragweed spots indicated in the satellite images as infected ones, but they are not able to identify the accidental errors of remote sensing in every case.

Botanical interrelations 

The common ragweed as pioneer weed is mostly propagating in areas with disturbed soil and without close, contiguous plant cover, i. e. in building plots, along dirt roads, banks of ditches, not properly cleaned root crop (sunflower, maize) and corn crop fields. The plant is annual and ephemeral like the majority of the pioneer plants; it means that at the same time it can be found in several development phases (in leaves, flowering and having seeds) in the same area. In those years before the modification of the Act on plant protection passed in 2005, the farmers obliged to utilization tried to remove the ragweed by ploughing and harrowing the infected blocks. In some cases they caused even more damages than before, as with this kind of cultivation the ragweed seeds hiding in deeper layers of the soil came into surface. Regrettably, the cutting down of ragweed once or twice was not the proper solution either, because the rest of the stem could also grow new sprouts and shortly after that, flowers and seeds too.

It is professionally proven that during the natural succession procedures and with the development of a closed, contiguous, natural cover of another plant corresponding to the climate and the soil, the ragweed will disappear within 2-3 years; it will be suppressed by more competitive perennial and indigenous plants. As an alternative solution, the aim could be the acceleration of the natural succession procedure by artificial intervention, considering the situation within a system and emphasizing the sustainable development; this can kill the essential conditions of life of the ragweed and prevents its establishment.  Another practical solution can be the continuously repeated cutting down, or together with sowing grass, in rural areas to cover the soil with mulch, selective chemical weed control in spring and sowing grass in autumn, finally introducing Hungarian indigenous pioneer plants for developing a closed contiguous plant cover. The total chemical weed control would be a fatal professional error, namely it would break the natural succession procedures and the „enemies” of ragweed would also die out.

The French example

Evaluating the international solutions, in France we can find some examples and ideas worth adapting in Hungary. In France, the ragweed prevention has been regulated by the codes of three authorities: of public health, of local (territorial) governments and of environmental protection. This latter one has four principles: precaution, prevention, access to information and air protection. In line with this last principle: if the owner/user of the parcel missed the ragweed control after 3 months waiting, he/she can be imprisoned for two years or obliged to pay a fine about 33 000 Euros. The fines can be even more serious, if there is a school or hospital in the vicinity of the infected area. These severe rules are so frightening that nowadays ragweed means problem in very few counties of France only. These general rules serve as a basis to the regulations of the counties, which are elaborated with attention to the local characteristics and features. The national regulation does not contain details, and EU-level regulation does not exist either. Generally it can be stated that the „Strategic plan of ragweed prevention” elaborated on the basis of county-level decrees is built upon three main pillars: 1. estimation of the aims to be reached and determination of priorities when starting the intervention; 2. selection of uniform methodology in the given region and 3. cost estimation of the intervention.

France allocates significant financial and intellectual resources for research, utilization of innovative prevention techniques and education connected to the ragweed control. The ragweed prevention is a part not only of the educational material of agricultural vocational training schools, but the students of the hazard areas can learn about it already in the primary schools.

Hungarian opportunities in the future 

To keep the environment ragweed-free in the coming years, the landowners and land users should obey the law, but also the intensive support of the authorities is needed. The Pest County Land Office joined the commission organized with the participation of the Pest County Labour Centre, the Pest County Local Government, the Pest County Public Administration Office, the Pest Institute of the State Public Health Service, the Plant Health and Soil Protection Service of Budapest and Pest County, the Budapest and Pest County Agricultural Office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The aim of this commission was to coordinate the county-level institutions of public administration and cooperate in the interest of supporting ragweed control. As a result of this cooperation, about 400 people worked in the infected places. The participating authorities reported the results at a meeting in Szigethalom, on 14th September 2006.

It is very important to produce local lists of names and addresses enabling the citizens obeying the rules of law and order the ragweed control of their land parcels. These lists should be available at the local governments, at the farming consultants, in the district land offices and at all related authorities. If the landowners were aware of the fact that the ragweed was not a fatal disaster, but the result of the wrong farming practice, and as such, it is preventable, they could spare much expensive work and procedures.

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