This isn't exactly a reader email, but struck me as important. Bob Hartzler, a prominent weed scientist whom I follow on Twitter, posted this tweet this recently:
"Authors state 'the time for pesticide stewardship is now.' Are herbicides a once in a century method of weed control?"
He is linking to a report by Adam Davis and George Frisvold from the USDA Agricultural Research Service published in June.
You can go to Bob's timeline or mine for the link.
Unfortunately, you must pay to read it. You can rent it for 48 hours for six bucks or plunk down 38 dollars to download the whole file.
If you have more than 10 years left in your career, cough up the 38 dollars.
Basically, the authors took a careful look at the growing problem of weed resistance, the lack of any new modes of action in 30 years, and farmer practices, and suggest we take the small, but very real chance of the end of effective herbicide weed control much more seriously than we have been.
This year could be a mental turning point for many of us, as resistant weeds are rampant across the Midwest, and pandemic in the South.
GMO seeds may have bought some time, but not as much as hoped. Making crops tolerant to chemicals does not alter the fact that weeds are doing so on their own.
New modes of action or ways chemicals can kill plants are not in the pipeline either, just tolerant crops to existing herbicides.
Now when you factor in rapidly rising costs for both seeds and herbicides, and a grim outlook for commodity prices, the economics of our way of farming will surely be tested.
While the authors outline prudent steps to husband the dwindling power of herbicide weed control, my read of their recommendations is they require more cooperation and foresight than our industry has ever demonstrated.
Imagine only being able to buy your preferred herbicide every other year, for example.
Moreover, we are rapidly dismantling the regulatory apparatus that would manage such measures. Nor does there seem to be the political will or public funds needed to induce farmers to act in unison to prevent herbicide failure.
There are many sound reasons to disagree with their doomsday predictions. The odds of that future, however, are not zero.