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In weed control Rice industry should look to future

I have had some interesting comments about an article I wrote concerning the APHIS report on LibertyLink rice — especially the comment that it may have been nobody's fault. Several callers commented that “it had to have been somebody's fault!”

That is one way to look at it. People are different and have different views. I tend to put things in the past behind me quickly, and I tend not to worry too much about things I cannot do anything about.

My biggest concern over LibertyLink is not for the past but what the future holds for it and biotechnology in general in rice. I repeatedly said the LibertyLink issue was not good for the rice industry. The industry lost markets and money and individuals lost money. But at this point I cannot do anything about it. Hopefully that part is behind us and we will recover all of the lost markets.

The rice price continues to get better. Some have asked, “What would it have been without this issue?” I do not have a clue. I have my opinions about a lot of the lawsuits that have been filed, but I'll have no issue with however they are decided. We have the best system in the world.

As a scientist I want to know is this a one-time mistake, accident, bump in the road or whatever you wish to call it, or is it an issue that sets biotechnology in rice back for years? If it is a one-time bump in the road and the courts determine people are owed money for that, so be it.

However, I contend that the future is much more important than the past.

As a weed scientist, I do not feel my discipline is more important than any other crop production discipline. Hopefully that statement will prevent some calls from my colleagues over my next statement: Weeds will drive a production system.

In the early days of Roundup Ready development, I made the comment to some of my colleagues that if their research did not include work with Roundup Ready varieties they would be left in the dust. Actually I told them they were about to get run over by a train with a “big red M” on the front of it. I was told by several of them that farmers would not base entire production decisions on the choice of herbicides. History has spoken on that issue.

If we cannot find a way to get market acceptance for biotechnology, including LibertyLink, one day we will be fighting weeds with one hand tied behind our back.

Right now we have weed control going our way in Arkansas. We have good herbicides. Last year had one of the cleanest crops I can remember. I know from experience, however, that when (it is not a matter of if) this changes, farmers will be demanding answers from weed scientists.

The driving force could be determined by red rice resistance to Newpath and Beyond. It could be barnyardgrass resistance to present herbicides. I could be something we have not even thought of.

Even if new herbicides were being cranked out, few would be developed for a crop like rice with limited acres.

In the case of LibertyLink, the technology is ready to go forward from a scientific standpoint. Good events are deregulated and the herbicide is registered. Obviously there is not market acceptance.

The technology is superior to the existing herbicide technology in rice. I may well be fighting an uphill battle, and I realize wounds have to heal. However, when the weeds demand changes in the herbicide program, it may well be easier to get market acceptance for LibertyLink than to develop a new weed control answer.

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