Not So Simple

The other day, I was having a debate with a co-worker on the rise of retro advertising and fashions. His opinion was that this was just part of an endless cycle of “things” repeating themselves. I, however, argued that this perhaps indicated a desire on the part of Americans to relive simpler times, where messages and styles came from a few voices rather than the thousands that flood today’s market thanks to the Internet.

And I have a feeling that soon, agriculture will be fondly looking back on simpler times, especially when it comes to crop protection products and application work. But in this case, going back to the past won’t be an option.
Now it’s no secret that one of the biggest problems facing growers and ag retailers is the ever-expanding spread of resistant weeds. Especially troubling is the rise of glyphosate-resistant varieties, particularly in the South.

“It is big in the South again this year,” says Wendell Stratton, owner of Stratton Seed Co., Stuttgart, AR. “Pigweed is the major problem here, with marestail, Johnsongrass and barnyard grass that has shown resistance to glyphosate.”

Researchers are also raising the alarm over the spread of resistant weeds. According to Bob Scott, a weed scientist at the University of Arkansas, glyphosate was “like a miracle” for agriculture when it was first introduced. “This, along with the introduction of Roundup Ready crops, made farming much simpler than it had been, allowing growers to use this one molecule to handle virtually all of their weed control needs.”

But this “one application cures all approach” is no longer viable in many areas of the country, with approximately 20 million acres affected by resistant weeds. According to several researchers, these yield-zappers could reduce farm income by approximately $2 billion in 2011 and more than $25 billion over the next decade. Furthermore, a recent Dow AgroSciences survey of growers found that 80% believe that, without some kind of enhancement to its use, the current glyphosate weed control system will be largely ineffective in as little as 10 years.

Luckily, these kind of enhancements are currently available (with others in development that should be market-ready in the next few years). But this will inevitably add cost and application work to the crop protection approach for grower-customers. For instance, Arkansas Grower Malcolm Haigwood says that it used to cost him $12 to $15 per acre to control stubborn weeds on his farm. In 2011, however, with added product use and more application work, it cost him almost $80 per acre to achieve the same level of weed control.
All this bodes well for the role retailers play in the ag economy, making their expertise and product recommendations to grower-customers more critical than ever to keep yields high.

But at the same time, farming will become much more complicated than it is today, a throwback to the 1970s. And the simpler times of the 1990s and early 2000s will gone forever.

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