By Brandon Mitchener
The current public discussion about glyphosate–the main active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular Roundup® herbicide–has many people who aren’t experts in agriculture asking ‘Why do farmers need to use weed killers anyway?’
The Romanian Farm Progress Show underway this week demonstrates why in a simple, visual way. Three plots in parallel strips among the maize fields of western Romania show what happens when no herbicides are used side by side with strips in which herbicides were applied using different techniques.
The most common use of Roundup® in Romania and many other countries is what’s called “stubble treatment”, in which the herbicide is applied after the harvest to kill any weeds that remain and allow the farmer to replant in the same field without having to plow it. Plowing damages the soil microbiome and promotes wind and water erosion.
“You can’t grow a crop without using such products,” said Istvan Meszaros, a Roundup® expert.
“It’s precisely during the dry season that the battle is the toughest,” he added. “You fight for every drop of water,” he said, standing under the hot sun. Romania has suffered from drought for six of the past 10 years.
As one would suspect, the strips in which Roundup had been sprayed–in the middle in the photo above–showed weeds that were drying out and dying. The herbicide is absorbed by the plant and eventually kills the weeds, including the roots, so they don’t grow back.
The strip to the right in the photo above shows what happens when nothing is done to control weeds which grow naturally in Romania’s fertile soil and hot growing conditions: The weeds are almost as tall as the maize in the background, basking under the hot sun and soaking up scarce water that the maize crop needs to reach its full potential. “If we don’t do anything these weeds will take over!” said Meszaros.
Moreover, as Meszaros noted, “Certain species of weeds are even toxic for animals,” meaning a failure to control them would render the entire crop unsellable.
Asked what he would say to anti-pesticide activists who don’t understand the need for herbicides in agriculture, Meszaros said, “They need to step out of their buildings and come to the fields and do some hand weeding. Seeing is believing.”
Here’s a related story (in French) about a weed contamination problem in France: http://www.monsanto.com/global/fr/actualites/pages/release-14-5-2010.aspx. (Unfortunately some of the links in the original point to documents which are no longer online).