Increasing American Weed Resistance: This Year’s 60-Mile Jump

By Heather Callaghan

Many would be apt to call weed resistance what it is – weed resistance. A problem with weeds developing resistance to herbicides sprayed on Roundup Ready crops that are genetically engineered to withstand herbicide exposure. Some would also call that a failure of GMOs on the part of biotech giants who made lofty promises to farmers and consumers alike.

But not Tom Peters, a former Monsanto employee. For over two decades, he was a program lead and agronomist, and helped develop and test traits in GMO crops like Roundup Ready sugar beets.

He doesn’t use the word “resistance” – it’s weeds management to him. It is also an exciting challenge: an “opportunity.” To this writer, such optimism toward an ecological blight is akin to gearing up to manage diabetes – typically with insulin shots, medical equipment and compression wear. But that is not the same as prevention or solving the problem once it sets in.

Yet, even Peters wonders with incredulity about a recent Midwestern “60-mile jump” in areas of glyphosate-resistances.

Waterhemp is now the number one challenge for beet growers. It starts out innocent and manageable, but goes on to proliferate with millions of seeds and is beginning to threaten soy crops. Other pests include common ragweed, giant ragweed and kochia. In the mid-2000s, waterhemp become so prevalent in Roundup Ready sugarbeets that even a few untreated weeds would lead to manifestations in a couple of years.

Peters said that “southern Red River Valley represented an imaginary northernmost line of glyphosate-resistant waterhemp infestation in 2014. In 2015, that line seems to have migrated all the way up to Highway 2 in Grand Forks, N.D.”

In the same interview, he told Grand Forks Herald of of his solutions – which involves a layered, intricately-timed chemical approach:

“I’m looking at metolachlor, but not as a stand-alone concept,” he says. “ I’m looking at it at very low rates, as a way to buy time until farmers can get to their post-emergence (herbicide) program, or their lay-by program.”

The experiment compares various regimens: no herbicide; Roundup-ready varieties followed by glyphosate, or Roundup; various soil-applied herbicides (including metolachlor); metolachlor, followed by lay-by applications of various other herbicides.

“Roundup still controls a lot of weeds and I can see it in my plots, but for tough weeds — weeds like waterhemp — we need other programs, other strategies and we need to implement them in a timely fashion.”

He wants more pre-emergence, soil-applied pesticide solutions. This might buy time against increasing resistance but does not “uproot” the main cause of the problem, does it? Not to mention, metolachlor is not something we need in groundwater, as it can cause chromosomal damage. Would sugar beet crops just be getting another insulin shot?

To be sure, a lot of consumers and farmers will appreciate Peters’ vigor at coming up with farming solutions for the time being. However, it is the recklessness and urgency of biotech, with the blind willingness of government agencies that first led to this ecological disaster. Conventional large-scale farming, with its emphasis on monoculture, no doubt had its issues – especially with pests and the chemical eradication of them, versus other solutions. But even that does not compare to the ever-increasing disastrous effects of genetically modified crops. Just like the waterhemp, it appeared innocent enough until its proliferation was complete.

One retired farmer in Iowa has a second career devoted to helping consult farmers who have had their crops fall over after a storm – only to discover that it was corn rootworm damage and that they too have become resistant in the last 10 years. Both he and an entomologist have recommended crop rotation as a solution. Shouldn’t we wonder why such a consulting career exists – and how much farmers will have to keep paying in order to have a crop that works?

This “challenge” or “opportunity” could have been spared, had there been legitimate, long-term safety testing, or, an actual desire to “feed the world” and help farmers.


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5 Comments on "Increasing American Weed Resistance: This Year’s 60-Mile Jump"

  1. Meanwhile in Washington State, weed resistance means you’re looking for a stronger strain.

  2. I’ve been deeply involved in alien weed control in natural areas for almost thirty years, and I’ve yet to find a weed that can resist what I call “PHR” — persistent hand removal. There was a time when most American agriculture used this method, and I grew up using it on small family farms. But PHR is too expensive for Big Ag and the people who used to do it all moved to the cities, where they found better jobs than running a hoe. And now that those “better jobs” in the cities are disappearing, it’s easier to go on welfare or beg as a homeless person than to reverse the migration back into the agricultural hinterlands to become the nation’s new farm labor class. For the corporations running most of our farmland today it’s just a bottom-line question: Is it cheaper to douse a field with herbicides, or to hire a small mob of farm laborers? Since the farm labor no longer exists, there’s no place to house them if they did, and labor laws, tax laws, Obamacare, and everything else that goes along with having employees makes not having them very attractive, the field is gonna get doused. Solving this problem is going to take a generation and some big changes in attitudes about being or hiring farm labor.

    The inescapable fact is that any chemical that can kill something as tough as a weedy species is going to have some nasty side effects. Current mechanical weed control methods have not changed in hundreds of years and inevitably miss many of the weeds. Our choices for weed control now are chemical, mechanical, or human labor; all have their problems. I suggest diverting some of the vast research budget for military robots towards solar-powered robots that can roll down a row in a field, visually identify every weed species, and pluck or surgically dig 100% of them, leaving a weed-free field with no side effects.

    • It’s not about killing weeds it’s about causing disease in humans to eliminate the population growth rate.The United States government is run by psychopaths actively committing acts of terrorism against it’s own people.

      • This may be true at the highest corporate and government levels. However, the farmers (and corporate farm managers) are generally clueless about such NWO conspiracies and are simply desperate to get the profit-robbing weeds out of their fields at the lowest possible cost. If a robot salesman came by and demonstrated a machine that could be turned loose in the field programed to recognize and efficiently terminate that field’s weeds, and do it for the same cost or less than Roundup (heck, maybe even for more expense than Roundup if it let the farmer claim “organic”) then the farmer would choose to buy, rent, or contract the machine. And there wouldn’t be much Monsanto or the NWO could do about it.

        I don’t know if my robot weeder is a real possibility. I do know that chemical agriculture has about run its course in less than a century and that we need to apply some new thinking to old problems. The government’s only interest here is to make more profits for its favored corporations and perhaps kill people as you assert, which is made more plausible by the fact that most of the government’s research efforts are focused on killing people more effectively in the military realm.

        I am reminded here of the results in one case where the government did spend a boatload of tax money on an agricultural “problem”, which was the difficulty and expense of picking olives. So the University of California developed a an olive tree that grew like a bush, and a machine that straddled the olive hedgerow to pick the crop. The program was successful, except that it put about 20,000 olive pickers out of work.

        • If you are going to use government funding to eliminate costs of labor then why not use the government to develop technology jobs using the resource that replace the labor worker’s jobs?

          OMFG! MY MIND EXPLODED….

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