Over the weekend, I read a very interesting article in the New York Times. The story focused on the growing number of glyphosate-resistant weeds now appearing across the country and the impact these are having on current agricultural practices. According to the article, there are at least 10 species of resistant weeds in 22 states, affecting from 7 million to 10 million acres. While this represents only a fraction of the estimated 170 million acres of cropland in the U.S. devoted to corn, soybean, and cotton production, it has steadily increased during the past decade – and promises to do so even more in the coming years.
The article went on to describe how the problem of glyphosate-resistant weeds was forcing some growers to abandon environmental-friendly production techniques such as no-till farming in favor of tilling the soil and, in some cases, pulling up weeds by hand. “We’re back to where we were 20 years ago,” said one grower in the story.
Now, for those of us who regularly follow the agricultural marketplace, none of this is news. Glyphosate-resistant weeds have been an issue since 2000 and ag retailers and their grower-customers have adopted a range of methods to combat them.
But what was interesting was reading comments from growers in the article that questioned the wisdom of supporting the biotech seed movement if glyphosate alone was no longer an effective tool in their weed control arsenal. “You’re having to add another product with the Roundup to kill your weeds,” said one Iowa corn and soybean grower. “So then why are we buying Roundup Ready product?” A similar comment came from a third-generation cotton grower in Georgia. “If we don’t whip this thing, it’s going to be like the boll weevil did to cotton,” he said. “It will take it away.”
Now I don’t believe the Era of Glyphosate is coming to an end. But it is clear that crop protection manufacturers and ag retailers need to do more to help growers overcome this threat. As always, education will be the key, helping growers learn how to rotate their herbicide control methods to keep resistant weeds from spreading.
At the end of the day, glyphosate is too special a tool for agriculture to lose. As one scientist in the article said, glyphosate “is as important for reliable global food production as penicillin is for battling disease.”
Of course, penicillin-resistant germs have created many headaches for medical professionals in recent years. Agriculture needs to make sure this fate doesn’t befall glyphosate as well.