Super Weeds!March 10, 2016
The Industrial farming revolution has created a previously unfathomable amount of technology that has given farmers the ability to plow, sow, and harvest in 40 acre to 1000 acre plots. I myself have driven a tractor over a 40 acre plot, turning every inch of the soil in a single day. I distinctly remember watching the sunset this summer’s evening two years ago, looking over the field and thinking how that would have been so much manual labor. Our use of fossil fuels in large machinery has driven us to produce vast fields of monocultures and incredible technology to maintain it.
Looking over the land on a field of his corn, my uncle says he can hear the snapping and popping of this vicious tropical grass’s growth. It’s not only money, but the livelihood of a farmer to look over his or her crop making sure everything’s all right. One thing the modern farmer does not want to see in their field is a pigweed, a cousin of amaranth, or any other of the so called “superweeds,” that have taken a stand against the application of glyphosate. Though a large portion of common weeds like pigweed, thistles, dandelions, and chicory actually have human edible aspects to them, their presence in a field is unwanted.
Glyphosate had been a wonderful tool to ward off these particular pests from the fields of a farmer. Glyphosate is environmentally friendly, having a half-life of around a week (Cornell), it degrades to benign compounds with the help of the sun and microorganisms. Companies like Dow Agrosciences and Monsanto have been the forerunners in the creation of these chemical technologies. Breeding resistance of these chemicals into plant varieties makes gives them immunity to a spray while killing the weeds in the field. Since 2012, there have been requests to the EPA and USDA from these companies to allow the development and release of plants that are immune to the use of 2,4-D and Dicamba (Purdue).
This has recently caused uproar from environmentalists, congressmen, and farmers (Organic Consumers) for two reasons, it’s persistence in the environment, and its potential for drifting. 2,4-D is much more resilient to degradation in the environment than glyphosate, and was actually part of the chemical solution that was used as Agent Orange in decimating the mangrove forests in the Vietnam War. Its lasting presence may be harmful to both surrounding plants that provide pollinators a place to stay and the animals in the area. 2,4-D exposure has been linked to birth defects and hormone disruption, making its persistence and potential for drift hazardous for rural communities (Farm and Ranch Freedom).
I have experienced how drift can be a problem first hand. While staying with my grandpa, I was growing a bean garden in his backyard. I planted them two or three weeks prior and they were about 8 inches tall with two sets of large broad leaves. The field across the street, which actually belongs to my grandpa, had rice growing in it and was sprayed by airplane. Most nozzles and formulas today are made to reduce the amount of drift, and it is recommended to only spray if the wind is less than 10 mph. Even with ideal conditions there is potential for these chemicals to travel. Needless to say, my poor patch of beans was brown and crispy the next day.
Allowing these chemicals to be sprayed would increase their use exponentially. Dicamba and 2,4-D are currently being used and have been for the past 40 to 60 years, but with more crop resistant varieties, their use is expected to jump 3 to as much as 7 times the amount they have been (Purdue).
As much time as I saved while riding on that tractor, plowing up 40 acres in a single day, I really had more enjoyment seeing my beans in the garden grow, as I planted them by hand and watered them with a can. Weeds in the garden and field may very well be useful. For example pigweed grain is edible, as with most species of the amaranth family. Purslane, plantain, and chicory all have medicinal properties and probably grow in your backyard and made into tea, cooked, or made into a salve. Fighting nature with better and better technology will of course be a fruitless effort.
Driving tractors is an incredible feat, and should be used to feed the people of Earth. Good conservation techniques, mechanical weed killing tools, use of cover crops, and even Round Up to a certain extent are several of many tools farmers of the future will have to utilize. Currently, statistics show each modern day farmer feed one hundred and fifty people. Giving farmers a little bit of slack on this statistic might be another positive variable in the equation.
Farmers are special because they work with the land, analyzing the soil, amending fertility, and producing food from it. The eater also shares in this beautiful connection to the earth. Bringing eater and grower together can create a special relationship. Growing even a small garden is a satisfying entertainment of time, but growing all of one’s food is a daunting task. Regardless of how we plan for the future with better technology and skilled mindfulness, the outcome of this expedition will surely result in an intimate relationship with the food that we eat on a daily basis.
In conclusion, people are upset with a possible increase of use of 2,4-D. Though not entirely necessary to sustain our way of living, small changes in the equation of how we feed ourselves will occur. A combination of conservative techniques, smaller farms, more farmers, and everything we can develope of will lead us into the future, resulting in an intimate relation with the earth, and our farmers.