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Why glyphosate resistance is so important

I promise I will not get on a herbicide resistance kick and stay on it all winter, but I will attempt to challenge you to think about it as we go through the “off season.”

Before going there, several readers asked about the progress of the glyphosate drift task force. We are inviting various groups and individuals to appear before the task force for to provide input and suggestions. We are limited as to the number of folks we can include.

However, I will repeat my invitation for anyone who wishes to to e-mail suggestions directly to my e-mail address. Several people have and every e-mail I receive is forwarded to Mike Thompson, director of the pesticide division at the Arkansas State Plant Board, for distribution to the task force.

I spend so much time on glyphosate resistance because we have built our entire farming system in cotton, corn and soybeans around this one herbicide. In addition, it is a big part of the weed management systems in reduced tillage rice and wheat.

The threat of resistance to glyphosate is much different than the resistance problems we have experienced with other herbicides. In the past, when resistance to an herbicide developed, we simply switched herbicides and moved on.

Quite often, as resistance developed, we had a new herbicide coming that was better than what we had. Because of this, farmers had no reason to take the herbicide resistance issue very seriously.

In my former career as a university specialist, I would commonly hear, “By the time I get resistance on my farm, the companies and university will have a solution, so I'm not going to worry about it.” At that time, it was hard to argue with that philosophy.

Times have changed. The Roundup Ready technology simply blew existing weed control technology out of the water.

I enjoy feedback on my articles and I can pretty much count on getting an e-mail or two taking me to task when I say it is miracle technology. However, farmers' acceptance simply speaks for itself.

I used to tell companies developing herbicides that did not fit in Arkansas, “You can sell a farmer anything once, but if it flops he doesn't ever forget.”

For farmers, at least in the short term, Roundup Ready is simply miracle technology. The downside is it set the curve so high that it pretty much flunked everybody else. There does not appear to be any novel chemistry being developed. In today's market, because anything developed has to compete with generic glyphosate prices, a newer better herbicide simply is not coming along to solve a major resistance problem.

Roundup Ready has been a miracle for entomologists and plant pathologists, because it put new chemistry development into those areas.

I am rarely asked for advice by younger university weed scientists. Heck, the younger generation is much smarter and far better trained. However, when I am asked, I advise them to stake their careers on something other than new herbicides coming along.

Throughout my career we were primarily herbicide scientists because herbicides were coming along so quickly it was a fulltime job to see where they fit for farmers in Arkansas. We may have another “herbicide boom” someday. Until that happens, however, the weed science focus and the farmer's focus has to be on preserving what we have.

If you are farming for the short haul, it probably does not matter. However, if you are farming for the long haul, glyphosate resistance needs to become a “big deal.” Next week I will attempt to let Palmer pigweed explain that better.

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