Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Pesticide-resistant 'superweeds' threaten crops

As we first reported last August, widespread use of the pesticide Roundup by U.S. farmers has led to a new strain of superweeds. Now national news media are taking notice.

William Neuman and Andrew Pollack of The New York Times report that as farmers liberally use Roundup on crop fields, weeds have adapted and forced farmers to use more labor-intensive methods. Farmers are being forced to spray fields with more toxic herbicides, pull weeds by hand and abandon no-till methods in favor of regular plowing. Farmers also are growing Roundup Ready crops using genetically modified seed to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed.

"We’re back to where we were 20 years ago," said Eddie Anderson, a no-till advocate who will now plow about one-third of his 3,000 acres of soybean fields this spring to battle the Roundup resistant weeds. "We’re trying to find out what works." Farm experts say the more labor-intensive methods could lead to "higher food prices, lower crop yields, rising farm costs and more pollution of land and water," the Times reports.

"It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen," Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, told the Times. Farmers have discovered 10 resistant species in at least 22 states, affecting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn. Ian Heap, director of the International Survey of Herbicide Resistant Weeds, told the Times that just seven to 10 million acres of U.S. fields have been affected by the Roundup resistant weeds so far, but resistant weeds have also been found in Australia, China and Brazil.

Monsanto, the company which created Roundup and the Roundup Ready seeds, downplayed the risk of resistant weeds and warns against overstating the problem. "It’s a serious issue, but it’s manageable," Rick Cole, who manages U.S. weed resistance issues for the company, told the Times. (Read more)

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