Should We Fight Resistant Weeds Using Real Weapons?

A few weeks ago, I attended a day-long seminar in Washington, DC, looking at the ever-expanding problem of herbicide-resistant weeds. As anyone who makes their living in agriculture knows, these troublesome yield-robbers have gradually grown in numbers and frequency since the beginning of the 21st century – and threaten to seriously undermine how grower-customers do their jobs in the coming years. At the meeting, one grower half-heartedly suggested that agriculture look to science to breed genetically-modified deer that would consume only herbicide-resistant weeds.

But instead of science, I think agriculture could look to the military for some inspiration on this front. I myself for years have suggested ag retailers consider recommending the use of napalm in farm fields to combat herbicide-resistant weeds (bringing a whole new meaning to the term “burndown” in the process). In my mind, this was just a joke – until I found out that using weapons of mass destruction to farm isn’t a new idea at all.

It seems that back in 1910, a pamphlet was produced called Farming With Dynamite. In it, growers were advised that using dynamite instead of a plow on their troublesome soils could “loosen the ground for yards around, killing all grubs and forming a spongy reservoir for moisture.” The document went on to site the example of one peach tree grower who had used this method on his farm, finding that trees planted in dynamite excavated holes produced five to six bushels of fruit vs. traditional planted ones.

Ultimately, however, farming with dynamite never really caught on. Not only was it a potentially dangerous method to employ, but the cost (approximate $17.20 per acre) proved to be prohibitive. Still, I’ve met plenty of growers in recent years that would probably get some immense satisfaction from using dynamite to blow herbicide-resistant weeds to kingdom come.

So as the problem of resistant weeds spreads, maybe agriculture needs to re-examine the use of military solutions to combat these enemies of yield and profit. To paraphrase a famous saying from history: This means war!

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