Stubborn Weeds Force Farmers to Resort to Oudated, Environmentally Hazardous Methods
Although Roundup has a reputation of being one of the top weed killers on the market and much safer than other chemical alternatives, there are still some stubborn weeds out there that are resistant to Roundup and have actually evolved over the past 34 years (since Roundup’s introduction). Unfortunately, this weed evolution has forced farmers (and others) to resort to some outdated and environmentally unsafe weed killing methods, particularly in the southern states.
Right now, there are at least 10 weed species in 22 states that refuse to let Roundup get the best of them, including Palmer Amaranth in Arkansas, and Water Hemp and Marestail in Illinois. All 3 of those species are known to grow very big, very quickly and produce tens of thousands of seeds at a time.
Now, the way Roundup works is it’s absorbed through the plants’ leaves and kills them by blocking the production of proteins they need to grow. Oh, and according to the EPA, you don’t really need to worry about the toxicity level of it because once it’s used, it attaches to the soil real quick and becomes inactive.
Monsanto (the company that introduced Roundup) also introduced seeds specifically created to survive Roundup, which means farmers could spray Roundup on their crops to remove the weeds growing alongside them. Today, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds make up 90% of the nation’s soybean crops and about 70% of the corn and cotton.
However, as with all things in Nature, the weeds will learn how to adapt. The more the weed killer is used on them, the more they are able to change and evolve—and that is exactly what is happening. To compensate cotton farmers for damages and further herbicide use, the company is paying them $12 per acre.
To make matters worse, farmers are already resorting to the use of older chemicals, such as dicamba and 2,4-D. This has forced Monsanto and other companies to develop new seeds designed to be resistant to these herbicides, too. Both dicamba and 2,4-D (which is an ingredient in Agent Orange) can easily go beyond the areas where they are sprayed, thus posing a threat to nearby crops and other wild plants, which in turn could also threaten animals, too.
There is hope, though. Australia has been dealing with a similar problem since the mid-90s and developed other (safer) methods of weed control. One of the methods involves planting cover crops, such as rye, to keep the weeds at bay during winter and other times when corn or other crops aren’t in season.
It’s hard to say what the future of Roundup will be or if there will be a better solution for weed killing, but we can only hope they won’t depend on the use of older herbicides and chemicals for too long.
By Heidi Marshall