Just like human immunity might lose the battle one day against antibiotic resistant germs, so will the same fate befall agricultural crops. In an alarming development, the superweeds have risen from the ground and are suffocating crops all around them. Weeds versus crops have been a battle since the beginning of agriculture. But the modern day fight has moved on to a different battleground where weeds are increasingly resistant to modern day herbicides. In the crosshairs is the widely used herbicide called glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup.
An approximated 10 million of the 178 million acres of U.S. farmland growing corn, cotton, and soybeans are now overrun with weeds that are unassailable to the chemical. Herbicide use could cost the industry $1 Billion a year and may force farmers to review older practices that modern chemicals were supposed to replace. In the 1990s, agrotech giant Monsanto introduced genetically modified crops that could withstand glyphosate, so many farmers turned to Roundup as their sole herbicide. Here started the problem as accidental propagation of a single species introduces genetic invariability – naturally bred resistances as the few weeds that survive pass their robustness to the next generation. 12 U.S. weed species no longer react to glyphosate, and since some seeds are windborne, resistance carries easily from one farm to another.
One cure could be to break the chain of genetic monotony by introducing species that can withstand other herbicides, as then farmers could add more variety to their treatment regimens. Early results from studies show that combining multiple chemicals and applying herbicides both before and after weeds come out, can improve crop yields compared with the typical glyphosate-only approach. Farmers would have to go back to traditional cultivation practices like tilling and crop rotation. These age old methods by default helped weed management instead of relying on bombardment of chemicals. Traditional cultivation makes it that much harder for weed species to develop resistance and become a dominant super- species.
Micheal Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University says – “In fields that don’t yet have problems, now is the time to make changes.”