In the late 1990s, farmers in the Southeast began planting Roundup Ready cotton — genetically engineered by Monsanto to withstand heavy doses of Roundup, the seed giant’s own blockbuster herbicide. As a result, use of Roundup exploded — and the farmers enjoyed “clean” (i.e., weedless) fields of monocropped cotton. But after a point, something funny happened — certain weeds began to survive the Roundup dousings.
These “superweeds” had somehow gained Roundup resistance themselves, much to the vexation of the farmers. Things have gotten so grim that the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service called in a scientist from the U.K. to study the matter, according to Delta Farm Press. He brought grave tidings: “We may expect the current weed resistance problems could be the tip of the iceberg,” he declared.
The problem stems from planting the same crops year after year in the same field, and dousing those fields several times each year with the same herbicide. As Delta Farm Press reports:
In the state — and across much of the South — most of the cotton is monoculture with producers growing cotton in the same fields year after year.
Maddeningly, rather than helping farmers diversify fields and move to more creative weed-control strategy, the Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service is teaming up with one of Monsanto’s rivals, Syngenta, to push farmers to add the latter company’s herbicide, Reflex, to their arsenal. They raise the possibility that by bombing their fields with Reflex before planting their cotton, farmers have a chance to avert a possible “explosion” of superweeds this summer.
Chillingly, the U.K. scientist seemed to suggest that such broad-spectrum herbicides might need to be applied year-round to avoid a resistance outbreak — even when fields are resting between plantings: “We need almost a season-long program of controlling [superweeds]. Any gap in the season could increase the likelihood of resistance evolution.”
Brilliant. Rather than diversify crops, we get a push to diversify agrichemicals — and increase their application rates. Maybe the Arkansas Agriculture Extension Service should consider consulting “experts” besides those associated with agribusiness giants?