Monsanto Supersizes Farmers’ Weed Problem—but Science Can Solve It

Monsanto creates a weed problem that science can solve.

When agribusiness giant Monsanto came up with its Roundup Ready system, it seemed like a superhero to farmers looking for an effective, relatively non-toxic way to fight weeds.

Alas, this was a superhero with a fatal weakness. And before farmers knew what hit them, that weakness had transformed their weed problems into a national superweed crisis.

Monsanto and its agribusiness peers say they have a solution—but it looks an awful lot like the one that failed the first time.

There’s a real solution available. We call it healthy farms. It’s grounded in science, it’s sustainable and cost-effective, and more and more farmers are putting it into practice.

But the transition isn’t easy, and farmers need new policies and more research to help them make it happen.

 

The Rise of Superweeds—and What to Do About It

It sounds like a sci-fi movie: American farmers fighting desperately to hold back an onslaught of herbicide-defying “superweeds.”

But there’s nothing imaginary—or entertaining—about this scenario. Superweeds are all too real, and they have now spread to over 60 million acres of our farmland, wreaking environmental and economic havoc wherever they go.

How did we get into this mess, and how do we fix it? A 2013 UCS briefing paper, The Rise of Superweeds—and What to Do About It, answers these questions.

Roundup: the cure that super-sized the disease

The superweed problem began as a promised solution.

In the 1990s, Monsanto introduced a new line of seeds called “Roundup Ready,” which were genetically engineered to be immune to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the company’s patented herbicide, Roundup.

Roundup Ready seeds were expensive, but they were widely adopted because they made weed control easier. And because glyphosate is less toxic than other common herbicides, the Roundup Ready system was hailed as an environmental breakthrough.

But there was a catch: as more and more farmers used more and more Roundup, genes for glyphosate resistance began to spread in weed populations. The growth of resistance was accelerated by a trio of factors:

  • Monoculture. Growing the same crop on the same land year after year helps weeds to flourish.
  • Overreliance on a single herbicide. When farmers use Roundup exclusively, resistance develops more quickly.
  • Neglect of other weed control measures. The convenience of the Roundup Ready system encouraged farmers to abandon a range of practices that had been part of their weed control strategy.
Estimates of actual herbicide use on U.S. soybeans through 2007, as well as future rates forecast by weed scientists. Adapted by permission from Mortensen et al. 2012. (Click for larger version.)

This “perfect storm” of accelerating factors has quickly turned the Roundup resistance problem into a superweed crisis. And because many farmers can no longer rely on glyphosate alone, overall herbicide use in the United States—which Roundup was supposed to help reduce—has instead gone up (see graph at right).

Industry doubles down

The pesticide and seed industry has responded to the superweed crisis with a predictable refrain: let’s do it again. A new generation of herbicide-resistant crops is awaiting USDA approval, engineered to tolerate older herbicides, such as 2,4-D and dicamba, in addition to glyphosate.

What’s wrong with that?

  • 2,4-D and dicamba belong to a chemical class that has been associated withincreased rates of diseases, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
  • They are highly toxic to broadleaf crops, including many of the most common fruit and vegetable crops.
  • They are more prone to volatilization (air dispersal) than glyphosate, so their increased use is likely to harm neighboring farms and uncultivated areas.

On top of all these drawbacks is a more fundamental one: weeds that developed glyphosate resistance can develop resistance to the new herbicides as well—and this has already begun to happen. When major weed species develop widespread multi-herbicide resistance, farmers will really be in a bind, because there are no new herbicides coming over the horizon to save the day.

A science-based solution: healthy farms

There’s a better way. Farmers can control weeds using practices grounded in the science of agroecology, including crop rotation, cover crops, judicious tillage, the use of manure and compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, and taking advantage of the weed-suppressing chemicals that some crops produce.

Such practices have benefits beyond weed control: they increase soil fertility and water-holding capacity, reduce water pollution and global warming emissions, and make the farm and its surroundings more welcoming to pollinators and other beneficial organisms.

In short, agroecological practices make the farm healthier. And recent research shows that they work.

What we should do

Despite their promise, agroecological practices have been held back by farm policies and research agendas that favor monoculture, as well as a lack of information and technical support for farmers who want to change their methods.

To encourage the adoption of these healthier practices, UCS recommends that Congress and the USDA should take the following actions:

  • Fund and implement the Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides support for farmers using sustainable weed control methods.
  • Institute new regional programs that encourage farmers to address weed problems through sustainable techniques.
  • Support organic farmers and those who want to transition to organic farming with research, certification, cost-sharing, and marketing programs. (Organic farming serves as a “test kitchen” for integrated weed management practices that can be broadly applied to conventional farm systems.)
  • Support multidisciplinary research on integrated weed management strategies and educate farmers in their use.
  • Bring together scientists, industry, farmers, and public interest groups to formulate plans preventing or containing the development of herbicide-resistant weeds, and make the approval of new herbicide-tolerant crops conditional on the implementation of such plans.
  • Fund and carry out long-term research to breed crop varieties and cover crops that compete with and control weeds more effectively.
Posted in education, environment, health, science

Ruined Old City of Homs, Syria 05/07/2014

Journalist: Roozbeh Kaboly

Location: Homs, Syria

Twitter: @rzbh
Broadcast journalist at the foreign desk of the current affairs program Nieuwsuur (NewsHour), Dutch National Television
Still photo of the ruined old city of Homs, Syria May 7, 2014. You can view more images of the devastation by following the twitter feed of Roozbeh Kaboly

Ruined. Old city of #Homs #حمص #Syria #سوريا pic.twitter.com/z0yAvQJelX

BBC Reported today: Hundreds of rebels have been evacuated from their last stronghold in the central Syrian city of Homs.
Two convoys of buses have so far left the Old City under a deal brokered by Iran and facilitated by the UN.
The withdrawal is part of a deal that will also see rebels release dozens of captives and ease two sieges.
It marks the end of three years of resistance in the central city, once dubbed the “capital of the revolution” against President Bashar al-Assad.
Much of Homs fell to the opposition in 2011, but over the past two years government forces have gradually regained control by subjecting areas once home to tens of thousands to continuous siege and bombardment.
In February, the government allowed about 1,400 people to be evacuated from the Old City.

‘World failed us’
The BBC’s Paul Wood in Beirut says the rebel fighters and their families were sad and bitter as they said goodbye to a place they swore they would never leave.
They buckled finally, our correspondent adds, after the government’s forces employed the tactic of what some Syrian army officers called “surrender or starve”.
“The rest of the world failed us,” one activist told the BBC as he prepared to leave.
A video posted online by activists on Wednesday morning showed the first group of fighters, some with their faces covered, walking in a line towards green buses.
They were watched by around a dozen men in uniform and flak jackets marked “police”. In front of the buses was a white vehicle with the markings of the UN.
Each fighter was allowed to take one bag and a rifle, and one rocket-propelled-grenade launcher was permitted per bus.

Posted in environment, tweets, war Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Space Weather April 25, 2014

SUMMARY: X-Ray Event exceeded X1 (R3)
Space Weather Message Code: SUMX01
Serial Number: 99
Issue Time: 2014 Apr 25 0048 UTC

SUMMARY: X-ray Event exceeded X1
Begin Time: 2014 Apr 25 0017 UTC
Maximum Time: 2014 Apr 25 0027 UTC
End Time: 2014 Apr 25 0038 UTC
X-ray Class: X1.3
Location: S14W90
NOAA Scale: R3 – Strong

NOAA Space Weather Scale descriptions can be found at
www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales

Potential Impacts: Area of impact consists of large portions of the sunlit side of Earth, strongest at the sub-solar point.
Radio – Wide area blackout of HF (high frequency) radio communication for about an hour.

Posted in environment

Maui Earth Day with The Boom Booms Band University of Hawaii Maui Campus

Boom Booms Band at Maui Earth Day

Today was Earth Day and had a wonderful experience meeting with the members of The Boom Booms Band at University of Hawaii Maui Campus.

I was checking my Twitter Stream and David Fisher had posted that Earth Day activities were taking place at the University of Hawaii Maui campus and the Boom Booms band was there. So I got on a bus with my bicycle headed into town parked my bike on campus and walked over and found the correct room.  The Boom Booms Band members shared  their environmental activism roots, how the band members met in Vancouver BC.  at a tree planting camp and learned about some of their explorations and sustainability support for some of the native tribes in South America and I hope you enjoy the YouTube video that’s featured on this page. The BoomBoom Band had recently played at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center and I’m sorry I missed it They’re a young inspired group and they’ve got a bright future ahead of them. Youtube The musical brotherhood of Vancouver-based band The Boom Booms began in BC’s glamorous tree-planting camps. Planting trees by day and creating and performing music by night for their tree-planting posse was a typical spring season for the childhood friends. Once the season ended, they kept the momentum going by producing their very own neighbourhood block party. The “Boom Boom Block Party” became a summer highlight for East Vancouver residents for four years and raised over $20,000 for organizations such as Environmental Youth Alliance (EYA); Contributing to Lives of Inner City Youth (CLICK); and The Music Tree, a not-for-profit foundation that is dedicated to raising awareness of ecological community projects through fundraising concerts and events. Co-founded by Aaron Ross and supported by The Boom Booms, The Music Tree is committed to “greening” the planet by inspiring people to get involved in community building and self-sustainability.

Media Contact:
Teresa Trovato | 604.683.8762 | teresa@paulmercsconcerts.com

Web: www.theboombooms.com | FB: www.facebook.com/theboombooms | Twitter: @theboombooms

Posted in education, environment Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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