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Weed resistance to herbicides clouds agriculture's future

There have been several interesting articles in the past few issues of Delta Farm Press concerning weed resistance to herbicides and the lack of new herbicides being developed.

In ariticles I have written over the past few years, I've often asked, “The weeds are talking, is anybody listening?”

I do not believe the sky is falling, but I do believe the glyphosate-resistant Palmer pigweed issue is going to get big in a hurry.

The best advice the scientific community has to offer right now is to use alternative herbicides and soil residual herbicides in Roundup Ready programs. I agree with this philosophy because there are no alternatives in the way of herbicides.

I am not optimistic, however, that alternative herbicides in cotton and soybeans will work because they are the same herbicides that were not working before Roundup Ready came along. Like glyphosate resistance in row crops, there is also great potential for the further development of barnyardgrass resistance in rice.

I hope everyone growing corn and grain sorghum this year has taken the opportunity to pound the pigweed problem in those crops. Crop rotation has to play a big role in resistance management. We still have some effective Palmer pigweed herbicides for use in these crops.

Bob Scott, University of Arkansas weed scientist, recently had an excellent article in this publication on the lack of new herbicides being developed. This is apparently not going to change anytime soon. Cheap glyphosate has devalued the herbicide market to the point there is no incentive for the development of new chemistry.

When cheap glyphosate no longer works, this may change. But any change will be slow, and all herbicides easy to find and develop may have been found.

My concerns about the future of weed control go beyond the lack of development of new herbicides. I have felt from the beginning of the development of GMO crops that our next generation of breakthroughs in all aspects of crop production would be in the area of biotechnology. I still believe that.

I also believe that the lawsuits and publicity over the presence of the Liberty Link gene in rice has the potential to set back the development of biotechnology in rice and other crops for years.

I have no “side” to take in the Liberty Link issue. A lot of people lost money because of it. What if, however, that all of the federal guidelines set forth for the development on biotech crops were followed in the case of Liberty Link? I do not know whether they were or were not. If they were, then Bayer CropScience is being pounded simply because they had the audacity to try to bring a new technology into the market.

If that is the case, it may be a long time before any other company is willing to stick its toe into the water with biotechnology — not just in herbicides, but in any area of crop production.

I wish the Liberty Link contamination issue had never happened. At this time the market has spoken loudly that it does not want it. However, I hope a middle ground is found to develop new technology and preserve our markets.

I can tell you as a weed scientist that Liberty Link has more weed control potential than anything presently available. I also know that huge efforts are being devoted to biotechnology in other aspects of crop production — especially in rice.

Just in the area of weed science we must find a way to move forward with new technology. The weeds and other pests are going to change. Technology must change as well. I am concerned that if we can not find some middle ground, we will find ourselves way behind the rest of the world in a few short years.

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