Super weed menace lights up Minnesota’s debate about farm chemical dependency concerns

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One day after his declared Republican opponent cavorts in Willmar with the Tea Party, state representative Andrew Falk and the Minnesota House Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance will be looking at the growing threat of super weeds.

From a media advisory:

The Minnesota House Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance will be holding a committee hearing on herbicide resistant weeds and the threat they pose to Minnesota agriculture.

The University of Minnesota will be presenting on the problem of resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, used in Roundup Ready crops. The weeds that become resistant to this herbicide are an ever increasing problem across the county and are an ever increasing risk Minnesota’s agricultural economy.

“I’m thankful this issue is being brought before our committee. It’s best to start the discussion about how to address an issue before it becomes a crisis,” said Vice Chair Rep. Andrew Falk (DFL – Murdock) a farmer from western Minnesota.

The meeting will be held on January 28, 8:15 p.m., in State Office Building, Room 5, St. Paul. Scientists from the University of Minnesota will give testimony to the committee.

This article is reposted from TCDP media partner Bluestem Prairie. Check out the links below for other recent Bluestem Prairie stories:

As far back as 2010, the New York Times reported in Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds:

The first resistant species to pose a serious threat to agriculture was spotted in a Delaware soybean field in 2000. Since then, the problem has spread, with 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn. . . .

Roundup — originally made by Monsanto but now also sold by others under the generic name glyphosate — has been little short of a miracle chemical for farmers. It kills a broad spectrum of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact. . . .

But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said.

Now, Roundup-resistant weeds like horseweed and giant ragweed are forcing farmers to go back to more expensive techniques that they had long ago abandoned.

Those techniques include more extensive tilling and plowing, setting aside no-till practices that help prevent soil erosion from water and wind.

Shifting to other pesticides or loosening regulations could raise other problems. Via MPR, the Associated Press reported earlier this month in Government might deregulate corn, soybean seeds:

The federal government on Friday proposed eliminating restrictions on the use of corn and soybean seeds that are genetically engineered to resist a common weed killer, a move welcomed by many farmers but feared by scientists and environmentalists who worry it could invite growers to use more chemicals.

The herbicide known as 2,4-D has had limited use in corn and soybean farming because it becomes toxic to the plants early in their growth. The new seeds would allow farmers to use the weed killer throughout the plants’ lives.

Farmers have been eager for a new generation of herbicide-resistant seeds because of the prevalence of weeds that have become immune to Monsanto’s Roundup. But skeptics are concerned that use of the new seeds and 2,4-D will only lead to similar problems as weeds acquire resistance to that chemical too.

It’s worth listening to what scientists at the U have to say about this fine mess. If 2,4-D sounds vaguely familiar, it indeed once had a high profile in America:

Among its critics, 2,4-D is best known as a component of the Vietnam War-era herbicide Agent Orange, which has not been produced since the 1970s.

Agent Orange has been tied to health problems in Vietnam veterans, but scientists do not believe 2,4-D was the culprit. Instead, their research focused on dioxin, a cancer-causing substance found in another ingredient known as 2,4,5-T, which was banned by the EPA in 1985.

The testimony should be interesting, and we’ll be curious to see if the scientists raise the prospect of other methods of weed-control, like post-harvest cover-cropping that not only deter weeds but help hold the soil during windy winters.

Out here in Chippewa County, the snirt (snow + dirt) signals that erosion is a problem, and Bluestem would rather see our farmers hold on to their topsoil.