Friday, August 14, 2009

'The perfect herbicide' meets 'the perfect weed' and the latter wins

Curtis Burgess, 16, chops near Hughes, Ark. "Chopping cotton, a chore and tradition recalling the days of the preindustrial South, is making a comeback," Tom Charlier reports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. "Hundreds of thousands of acres of cotton and soybean fields have been infested with a rapacious, fast-growing weed that's become resistant to the main herbicide on which farmers have relied for more than a decade." (CA photo by Brad Luttrell)

The herbicide is glyphosate, most often Roundup, made by Monsanto, and the weed is Palmer pigweed, strains of which have developed resistance to the highly popular chemical, which even Monsanto says has been overused. The weed grows more than an inch a day, up to 10 feet tall, with tree-sized stalks, and each plant can produce up to 100,000 seeds. "If you wanted to draw up the perfect weed, this is it," Larry Steckel, extension weed specialist with the University of Tennessee, told Charlier. He said Roundup was thought to be "the perfect herbicide."

"The resistance problem will force growers to make wrenching and costly changes if they want to stay in business in the coming years, agriculture experts say," Charlier writes. "In Arkansas alone, the weed has invaded some 750,000 acres of crops, including half the 250,000 acres of cotton. In Tennessee, nearly 500,000 acres have some degree of infestation, with the counties bordering the Mississippi River hardest hit. The infestation is cutting farmers' cotton yields by up to one-third and in some cases doubling or tripling their weed-control costs."

Ken Smith, a weed scientist with the University of Arkansas, told Charlier, "I think this threatens our way of farming more than anything I've seen in the 30-plus years I've worked in agriculture." Charlier reports, "Some officials draw parallels between the pigweed resistance problem and the effects of the boll weevil infestation of cotton fields in the early 20th century." (Read more; hat tip to Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute)


elrojo said...

you dont have to be a plant expert to know that herbicides create plants that are resistant to the herbicide's effect. we're seeing it here. same situation with including antibiotics in animal feed -- eat enough medicated chicken, pig ribs and burgers and the doctor's antibiotic prescription doesn't work when you really need it.

JOHN SHORTLAND, Cotswold Hills, England. said...

this sounds a similar problem to Japanese Knotweed in England. Once you get it, it is virtually impossible to eradicate. The county councils are now making a concerted effort to clear it from public ground - better than nothing and long overdue. Johnson

Anonymous said...

There are some things we do to save our cities and crops and acres of land.