Of course glyphosate is toxic! It is a herbicide after all – the whole point of glyphosate (G for short in this post) is to kill unwanted plants. Like all chemicals, including water and salt, G is going to be toxic to animals (including humans) at some dose. Compared to other herbicides, though, G is a pretty safe option for killing weeds. Don’t take my word for it, check out the Glyphosate Technical Fact Sheet from the National Pesticide Information Center at Oregon State. G’s relative safety is one reason why it’s become so popular.
One interesting use of G is to dry wheat before harvest. To help reduce levels of toxic fusarium fungus on wheat, it is good to harvest the wheat as early as possible but you can’t harvest it until it’s dry. So G is used to dry (aka kill) the wheat plants so the grain can be harvested. As long as the G is sprayed after the plants have fully matured, the G won’t be moved from the plant into the seeds. Here, G is actually helping farmers prevent a legitimately scary toxin from getting into the food supply. Want to learn more? Check out this video: Wheat School- Timing Pre Harvest Glyphosate Application In Wheat.
With G being used not only as a herbicide but also as a drying agent, and not just in our lawns but on our food, should we worry about our safety? In short, no.
Filmmakers: Glenn Ellis and Guido Bilbao
For much of the past decade Argentina has seen a commodities-driven export boom, built largely on genetically-modified soy bean crops and the aggressive use of pesticides.
Argentina’s leaders say it has turned the country’s economy around, while others say the consequences are a dramatic surge in cancer rates, birth defects and land theft.
People & Power investigates if Argentina’s booming soy industry is a disaster in the making.
Filmmaker’s view: Bad seeds
By Glenn Ellis
As I flew in to Buenos Aires to make this film, all the talk was of President Cristina Kirchner’s latest gambit. Her foreign minister had pulled out of a meeting with the British foreign secretary to discuss the Falklands (or the Malvinas depending on your outlook). And for the people I rubbed up against in Argentina’s smart and chic capital, on discovering I was English, this, along with Maradona’s ‘hand of god’ moment, was the topic on everybody’s lips. “We won the war”, they would say. “After the fighting we got rid of our dictators but you had another 10 years of Thatcher.”
When I explained I was in the country to cover the soya boom, which has given Argentina the fastest growth rate in South America, but also allegedly caused devastating malformations in children, there was a look of disbelief. “Here, in Argentina? Why haven’t we heard about it?”
A good question: why had not anyone heard about it? And when I ventured a little further explaining I also wanted to cover what is best described as a dirty war in the North of the country where campesinos are being driven off their land, and sometimes killed, to make way for soya plantations – the bemusement increased. “That’s historical” people would say, “it’s been going on since the time of the conquistadores.” So when I arrived with my crew at Argentina’s second city, Cordoba, 700 kilometres North West of the capital, to meet Alternative Nobel Laureate Professor Raul Montenegro, I was not quite sure what to expect.
Montenegro, a world-renowned biologist, looked the part of a pioneer, in khaki shirt and jungle boots. “I have pesticide in me”, he said, almost as soon as he opened the door. “Here we all have pesticide in our bodies because the land is saturated with it. And it is a huge problem. In Argentina biodiversity is diminishing. Even in national parks, because pesticides don’t recognise the limit of the park.” Montenegro is a man in a hurry. “You must see for yourself”, he said pointing to his Land Rover and taking us a short drive out of Cordoba to a slight rise in the vast plain which surrounds the city. Here, as far as the eye can see, endless acres of soya stretched to the horizon. “More than 18 million hectares are covered by this GMO soya but it’s not solely a matter of soya because over this plant on this huge surface more than 300 million litres of pesticide are used.”
A soy republic
Not so long ago Argentina topped the world for meat production, but here there was not a cow in sight. It is a picture replicated across the country. The transformation has taken little more than a decade and the vast majority of soya seed in Argentina is provided by US chemical giant Monsanto.
Add weed control to the list of elements of growing your 2011 crop that is being complicated as cool, wet weather continues to delay planting in the bulk of the Corn Belt.
If you’re too far delayed in your planting and were originally planning on using a quick tillage trip to knock down early-emerging weeds, you may not be able to pull that off this spring. “Preplant tillage operations can effectively control existing vegetation while preparing a seedbed,” says University of Illinois Extension weed specialist Aaron Hager. “However, as weeds become larger, the effectiveness of tillage to control weeds before planting can be reduced.”
Even if you are able to squeeze in a round of tillage as things start to dry out, it may lose some efficacy, Hager says. “Reduced weed control may also occur when fields are slightly wet during the preplant tillage operation,” he says. “Soil disturbance may not be as extensive when soils are retaining moisture, and clods are more likely to be formed. Weeds sometimes take root again after tillage when soil disturbance is inadequate and soil moisture is abundant.”
So, what’s the answer? If tillage is already done, you don’t have enough time before you plant, or you were already thinking of a burndown application anyway, Hager says you can control winter annual weeds with a little stronger rate of burndown herbicide to “account for the large and dense vegetation.”
NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Through the first months of 2010, the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF(MOO) has been punished as a storm of bad earnings reports and sliding food prices pressures the fund below its 200-day moving average, but this slide may not be over.
At the close of 2009, MOO was lauded by many as the go-to fund for investors looking for a chance to play a fertilizer industry turnaround in 2010. At the time, the global economy was well on the road to recovery and growth forecast in China’s markets was seen as a catalyst for food demand. In order to keep hungry mouths fed, farmers would need to step up yields, providing the fertilizer industry with an ideal window for growth.
Agricultural chemical companies make up more than 45% of MOO’s total portfolio, and with Potash of Saskatchewan(POT) and Mosaic(MOS) in the top-10 holdings, MOO appeared well equipped for any such windfall.
Unfortunately the first months of the year have passed with no such boost. Although names including Terra Industries(TRA), CF Industries(CF), Bunge(BG) and Vale(VALE) grabbed headlines when M&A activity heated up early in the year, any benefits from their respective deals have long been wiped away as investors focus on debt issues coming to a head in the eurozone and economic tightening in China.
Rather than living up to the optimistic forecasts for the fertilizer industry, POT and MOS have tumbled 6% and 19%, respectively, in 2010. Once bright, MOO’s future is now clouded in uncertainty.
Genetically Engineered Distortions
By PAMELA C. RONALD and JAMES E. McWILLIAMS
A REPORT by the National Research Council last month gave ammunition to both sides in the debate over the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. More than 80 percent of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the United States is genetically engineered, and the report details the “long and impressive list of benefits” that has come from these crops, including improved soil quality, reduced erosion and reduced insecticide use.
It also confirmed predictions that widespread cultivation of these crops would lead to the emergence of weeds resistant to a commonly used herbicide, glyphosate (marketed by Monsanto as Roundup). Predictably, both sides have done what they do best when it comes to genetically engineered crops: they’ve argued over the findings.
Lost in the din is the potential role this technology could play in the poorest regions of the world — areas that will bear the brunt of climate change and the difficult growing conditions it will bring. Indeed, buried deep in the council’s report is an appeal to apply genetic engineering to a greater number of crops, and for a greater diversity of purposes.
Micheal D. K. Owen is a professor of agronomy and an extension weed scientist at Iowa State University. He is the co-author of “The Impact of Genetically Engineered Crops on Farm Sustainability in the United States.”
Weeds, like all organisms, respond to selection pressures imposed by the environment. In this case, the primary selective pressure is the repeated use of one specific herbicide: glyphosate.
If farmers adjust their approach to weed control, they’ll be fine.
The solution to the problem for farmers who have yet to cause the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds is to adopt a more diverse weed management program that includes tactics other than glyphosate. By altering the selection pressure on the weeds, glyphosate resistance will be slow to evolve.
For those increasing number of farmers who have glyphosate-resistant weeds, the solution is similar but more difficult: adopt alternative tactics that will control those weeds. Of course, often these weeds have also evolved resistance to other herbicides, which, again, is attributed to the historic use of one herbicide as the sole management tactic. In this case, weed control may be more challenging and costly.
Weeds have demonstrated the ability to evolve resistance to herbicides predating the relatively recent adoption of glyphosate-resistant crops. The concern is that crop production systems (corn, soybean, cotton, sugar beets and canola) are now predominantly based on the use of glyphosate. Unless growers use more integrated weed management tactics, the problem of evolved glyphosate-resistance in weeds will likely continue to increase at a growing rate.
While it is unlikely that consumers will experience a direct impact with higher food prices, the farmers will have greater production costs and more difficult management decisions.
As far as what this problem infers about production agriculture is more difficult to assess. However, based on my experience, the risk of herbicide-resistant weeds can be addressed effectively by observing some basic principles of ecology and adjusting management tactics.
Scott M. Swinton is a professor of agricultural, food and resource economics at Michigan State University. He developed WEEDSIM, a computer program to help farmers choose profitable weed control strategies.
Roundup Ready™ crops let corn and soybean farmers rely on a single weapon. A single weapon is predicable, and any warrior who is predictable is open attack by opponents that can adjust. Roundup resistant weeds have done just that.
A choice between higher environmental costs and higher food costs for nonchemical weed control.
To overcome these new “super weeds,” farmers need to take a leaf from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”: study the opponent and find its weaknesses. The past 30 years of research into weed management have yielded two important keys to understanding the weaknesses of weeds.
The first key is to study the weeds in the crops. How many weeds are there? Just a few weeds may not cause enough crop damage to be worth the effort and cost of weed control. Which weed species are present? All weeds are not equal. Some weeds get bigger and do more damage than others.
There are many herbicides to choose from, and some kill certain weeds better than others. Computer programs can help farmers decide whether a herbicide is worthwhile and, if so, which one is most cost-effective. WeedSOFT is one program developed by researchers at 17 land-grant agricultural universities that can help farmers find the weapon to exploit their enemies’ weaknesses.
The second is to be unpredictable. Farmers who grow Roundup Ready™ crops may find that glyphosate is nearly always the most cost-effective choice, but the wise warrior also understands the value of surprise. Relying on the same herbicide will eventually favor those weeds that can mutate to survive.
There are many strategies farmers can use to vary their attack. They can change herbicides. They can use tillage. They can also rotate different types of crops. Rotating summer crops (like corn and soybean) with winter crops (like wheat and canola) can break up weed cycles.
Alas, studying the enemy takes time and effort. Just as antibiotic-resistant germs have forced physicians to spend more time on diagnosis, so glyphsate-resistant weeds will force farmers to spend more time on weed diagnosis. This will raise their weed control costs. Unfortunately, many herbicide substitutes for glyphosate are more toxic, so the public may have to choose between higher environmental costs and higher food costs for nonchemical weed control.
Times reporters William Neuman and Andrew Pollack investigate a dangerous and underreported consequence of genetically engineered crops: “tenacious new superweeds.” But the spread of superweeds should surprise no one.
We need to manage weeds and pests through natural processes, not toxic chemicals.
In 1999, my late father, scientist Marc Lappé and colleague Britt Bailey explained the threat of these superweeds, which “could require greater amounts of more toxic pesticides to manage, and threaten extinction for rare plants and their weedy relatives relied upon for crop and plant biodiversity.” Many others raised this red flag. Their concerns were largely dismissed as the rantings of Luddites or the hand wringing of elites.
Now we have evidence that, unfortunately, these predictions were prescient, especially here. The United States is ground zero in the global experiment with genetically engineered crops, with more than half of them planted in this country.
Who will pay the price of agribusiness’ power to silence those pointing out the most basic fact of evolutionary genetics, that plants evolve resistance? Farmers pay the price in lower yields; consumers pay the price in the checkout line; all of us pay the price as genetically engineered monocrops replace biodiversity As climate instability worsens, biodiversity is exactly what our farms will need to respond to changing conditions.
Mr. Neuman and Mr. Pollack note the industry’s response is to switch the chemical. No, we’ve got to switch the system.
We should listen to farmers, scientists and development experts who are urging agroecological farming practices, now proven to effectively manage weeds and pests through natural processes not toxic chemicals. And we should urge government support for those many farmers who want to transition away from this dangerous agricultural experiment, but who can’t afford to get off the chemical and biotech treadmill. Finally, in a farm economy where one company, Monsanto, controls more than 90 percent of all genetically modified germplasm, we should encourage competition in the agricultural markets.
Can anything be done about herbicide-resistant weeds in U.S. crops?
The herbicide is as important for global food production as penicillin is for human health.
The short answer is yes. This starts with realizing that glyphosate — Roundup and other trade names — is a precious resource for current and future harvests. Glyphosate is the world’s greatest herbicide. In my view glyphosate is a one-in-a-hundred-year discovery that is as important for global food production as penicillin is for global human health.
Yet glyphosate is failing in corn, soybean and cotton crops in the American Midwest and South because of massive overuse. This is also happening in Argentina and Brazil. For some U.S. grain and cotton producers it is already too late: over-reliance on glyphosate has led to the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and alternative chemical and non-chemical solutions will be required.
However, for many, glyphosate is still working, and these farmers have the opportunity to make changes now to give themselves the best chance that glyphosate will work for future harvests. This will call for diversifying crops and giving glyphosate a rest by using other herbicides and non-chemical weed control tools that make sense. Diversity offers the best chance of saving glyphosate.
Glyphosate should be conserved for future harvests in the U.S. and world crops because without glyphosate, global grain production becomes more difficult. And that will have a large effect on the global food supply.