“The revenge of Palmer pigweed”: GM crops spawn new super-weeds

I’m biased against genetically modified crops. I believe my biases have solid foundations:

  • GM crops are for the most part designed and marketed to make money for agribusiness, not to support healthier food and environments
  • GM crops are mostly part of the Green Revolution model of fuel and fertiliser intensive agriculture, which is not sustainable in a world threatened by climate change, widespread land and soil degradation and declining supplies of fossil fuels
  • The IAASTD, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, a process that involved contributions from 400 scientists, concluded that GM crops had little or no role to play in creating land and food security for developing country farmer – this has not stopped GM companies from trying to force that technology onto said farmers, with frequently tragic results
  • GM crops and derivative foodstuffs have in many instances been forced on farmers and consumers alike

All that said, I hope I keep an open mind and do justice to the facts as I discover them. A recent discovery, thanks to an article from the Centre for Research on Globalization, was reading of a new generation of herbicide resistant crops that have been spawned by the widespread use of Roundup Ready (glyphosate) crops in the southern US. Roundup is a herbicide, and Roundup Ready crops are engineered to resist large applications of Roundup that kill any competing weeds, and that would also kill conventional non-GM crops.

What’s really interesting is reading not what anti-GM activists write on the subject, but what the agribusiness websites themselves have to say about this problem – and they make it clear that it’s a huge problem. And so I bring you a collection of excerpts from a site you will no doubt in future consider required reading, the Delta Farm Press, which is absolutely carpeted in articles discussing the problem:

Herbicide-resistant weeds have emerged as a major problem in Southern agriculture and, so far, Palmer pigweed is the main villain.

Scott noted that 2010 “will be remembered as the year of the pigweed harvest. It didn’t take long to go from one or two survivors to a full-on infestation of Palmer pigweed.”

If you made an application of glyphosate in 2010, and you had survivors in those fields, you probably learned that we don’t have a club in our bag for the size of pigweeds that survived the first application, in conventional or Roundup Ready soybeans, or even in the new LibertyLink soybeans.”

From 1998 to 2008, weed control on Mid-South cotton farms was perhaps the easiest in the history of U.S. cotton production, thanks to Roundup Ready technology. The next few years, however, could be the hardest. Glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed threatens to propel weed control through a time-warp — from a total post-emergence program to an era when hand choppers, residual herbicides, hooded sprayers and tillage were the tools of the weed control trade.

I predicted Palmer pigweed would be the first major weed to develop resistance to glyphosate. That honor went to marestail. However, I believe that glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed is the first real threat to [Roundup Ready] technology.

The only solution? More herbicides (this excerpt from an article titled “Palmer pigweed getting revenge”):

The best plots in our work this year take a program approach. Yes, it is going to cost a little more. Valor (or Valor-containing pre-mix) in a burn-down a few days before planting or Prefix (Dual + Reflex) applied pre- followed by two applications of Ignite were the only treatments I would call “table top” clean. It scares me to rely on a pre for pigweed control. Some of our plots missed the irrigation just a bit and did not get activated. A straight Ignite program in Liberty beans works, but you have to time the first shot of Ignite on 2-inch pigweeds or you get behind real fast. I think Bayer will be fully promoting the use of residuals with LibertyLink beans from day one. In conventional soybeans, I like Valor applied a few days before planting in a burn-down with glyphosate, then going back very early with Flexstar.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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