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Glyphosate-resistant weeds now established in 19 states
Iowa crop farmers are battling an old problem with potentially new and devastating repercussions for the entire state’s agricultural economy: Herbicide-resistant weeds.
The phenomenon is not all that new, said Mike Owen, a weed specialist at Iowa State University who has been discussing herbicide-resistant weeds since the 1980s. But widespread adoption of certain biotech advances have made matters much more complicated.
It has only been in the last few years that crops have been selectively engineered to tolerate topical application of active ingredients in a specific herbicide. The resistance that weeds have developed to that ingredient — called glyphosate — combined with its widespread adoption, has the potential of costing Iowa producers millions of bushels of produce, and severely crippling the state’s ag-based economy.
An herbicide with glyphosate was introduced by the Monsanto Co. in 1974 under the commercial name Roundup. Roughly 18 years later, the company introduced its first biotech crop, Roundup Ready soybeans, which would tolerate direct application of the glysophate-based herbicide. Modified corn was introduced two years later.
When these glyphosate-resistant crops came onto the market, many hoped and some believed that another herbicide or genetically-modified crop wouldn’t need to be developed. However, over time, crop farmers encountered more and more glyphosate-resistant weeds, and no new herbicide ingredients being developed to control them. Within a decade, some environmental and consumer groups were beginning to question the safety of the Roundup Ready crop line, specifically pointing to the emergence of “super weeds.”
Despite the concerns voiced by some, and increasingly aggressive tactics by Monsanto to protect its seed patents, use of the Roundup Ready crop brands were widely adopted by farmers in Iowa and throughout the nation. While each individual grower had his or her own specific reasons for changing to the Roundup Ready system, Owen believes that larger scale operations’ search for simplicity and convenience as well as corporate marketing played key roles.