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Biotech Earth Science

First Superbugs, Now Superweeds 435

Posted by Soulskill
from the as-long-as-there-are-no-supersharks-we're-ok dept.
Finxray writes "Years of heavy use of the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup has led to the rapid growth of superweeds. They are spreading throughout North America, creating headaches for farmers and posing 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,' according to Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts. From the article: '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. The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds."
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First Superbugs, Now Superweeds

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:15AM (#32138372)

    Yes. Death.

    • by polar red (215081)

      financial death you mean?

      • by gerf (532474) <edtgerf@gmail.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:26AM (#32138438) Journal

        Monsanto is probably best known amongst the slashdot crowd for their patent litigation regarding gene patents

        As for the weeds that show resistance, they've been known to exist for quite some time. Some weeds naturally react weakly to Round Up, and it's been common practice to include a quart/acre of Pursuit or some other chemical. It's a pain to deal with, but it's not impossible.

      • by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:27AM (#32138440) Homepage Journal
        When Monsanto can successfully sue you for patent infringement when a neighbor's seeds blow onto your land [wikipedia.org], then yes, Monsanto needs to die. If "Roundup Ready" weeds are part of it, bring them on.
        • by confused one (671304) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:30AM (#32138464)
          seed nothing. Pollen is all it takes for the patented gene to cross into your fields.
        • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @11:09AM (#32138736)

          'Regarding his 1998 crop, Schmeiser did not put forward any defence of accidental contamination. The evidence showed that the level of Roundup Ready canola in Mr. Schmeiser's 1998 fields was 95-98% (See paragraph 53 of the trial ruling). Evidence was presented indicating that such a level of purity could not occur by accidental means. On the basis of this the court found that Schmeiser had either known "or ought to have known" that he had planted Roundup Ready canola in 1998.'

          'The courts at all three levels noted that the case of accidental contamination beyond the farmer's control was not under consideration but rather that Mr. Schmeiser's action of having identified, isolated and saved the Roundup-resistant seed placed the case in a different category.'

          The judgment wasn't about accidental contamination. He intentionally identified and planted seeds containing the modification patented by Monsanto.

          • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @02:28PM (#32140364)

            On the basis of this the court found that Schmeiser had either known "or ought to have known" that he had planted Roundup Ready canola in 1998.'

            'The courts at all three levels noted that the case of accidental contamination beyond the farmer's control was not under consideration but rather that Mr. Schmeiser's action of having identified, isolated and saved the Roundup-resistant seed placed the case in a different category.'

            The judgment wasn't about accidental contamination. He intentionally identified and planted seeds containing the modification patented by Monsanto.

            Doesn't the development of roundup-resistant weeds blow a huge hole that judgment's reasoning? The assumption in the Schmeiser case all along was that if he had canola crop which was resistant to Roundup, then everyone should have known it must have come from seeds containing Monsanto's patented genes. And that Mr. Schmeiser, by saving those seeds, deliberately kept and planted crop which he knew or should have known contained Monsanto's patents.

            Weeds developing the resistance naturally proves that plants can develop resistance to Roundup naturally. That means Mr. Schmeiser could not have known that the crop was in violation of Monsanto's patents since it could also have come about naturally.

        • by jefu (53450)
          There's the solution then. Just have Monsanto sue everyone who gets superweeds on their property. Guaranteed win!
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MurphyZero (717692)
          Since Monsanto sues anyone who grows anything with that genetic code for patent infringement, and no one else is selling the weeds, it is obvious that Monsanto is responsible for the weeds. The farmers should sue as they clearly asked for soybeans not weeds.
  • Weed... (Score:4, Funny)

    by pablo_max (626328) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:16AM (#32138380)

    ""Years of heavy use of the broad spectrum herbicide Roundup has led to the rapid growth of superweeds".

    Quick..someone mix this "Superweed" with normal weed! They wont be able to make that illegal! We can't be stopped!

  • by g8orade (22512) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:17AM (#32138386)

    Generally, we just don't understand all the externalities involved.
    Hopefully, they don't lead to catastrophic circumstances.

    • The early stages of his Deathworld series. Native life adapts to fight the aggressor.

    • It's a weak analogy to compare super weeds to superbugs. In the case of bugs we have a huge limit. There is only one species we are defending (us) and we can't just arbitrarily medicate ourselves. With the plants we a defending, they are replanted every year, we can treat the soils and the plants arbitrarily, and even genetically modify the plants if crop rotation itself is not sufficient. For example plant corn to share them for several years.

      So I think we do understand
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by sznupi (719324)

        Yeah, it seems they are doing something right, if they manage to remain sustainable while at the same time having quite decent standard of living.

        But this, unfortunatelly, leads to a sad conclusion - societies and nations can act responsibly, in those matters, mostly only when they are forced to... :/

    • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @11:11AM (#32138748) Homepage

      All that graph means is that Cuba has a relatively low population given it's agricultural production.

      If you were to include theoretically possible agricultural production, instead of actual, the US would be a lot better off than cuba :

      wolframalpha to the rescue [wolframalpha.com]

      In terms of sustainability, using the only metric that really matters (amount of sunlight over land per capita), the US is 3 times more sustainable than Cuba, which is about as sustainable as Europe (ie. Cuba and Europe need to kill at least half their population if they're to survive on their own, while the US could increase it's population by another 50% before problems start occuring).

      The additional snag is that 2.1 hectares per person is only a viable number assuming industrial agriculture. Traditional agriculture, or "bio" products, or "sustainable farming" need between 10 times and 100 times that. Assuming 10 times, that means that Europe and Cuba need to kill (or starve) just slightly over 95% of their populations and the US would need to kill (or starve) a little under 85% of the US population.

      So "sustainable agriculture" ? That ship has sailed, and is long gone over the horizon. I wonder how "greenies" think about this. Is it acceptable to kill 90% of all humans alive so that the remainder could be slightly healther (live 5 years longer) ? If one is to believe actions, clearly greenies believe this. Of course, in reality, I doubt they've even thought about it.

      On the other hand, Japan has survived now for about 60 years with less than 0.1 ha/capita, and is now approaching 0.04 ha/capita. Whatever the catches in that, it's possible.

      And there's always the technological option. The best plants are less than 2% efficient in collecting energy. Storing that energy is about 8% efficient (energy in ATP -> energy in starch). Eating those plants directly is less than 0.2% efficient. Eating plants gives human bodies about 2 millionth of the original solar power that went into producing what they ate. If we were to find a way to convert sunlight directly into sugar (or starch, or ... I'm in favor of starch, that would, after all, mean free beer) with an efficiency of 10%, 0.2 ha/capita should be easily attainable. If we can get 50% efficient at that, we could feed over 90000 trillion people.

      In addition, a sunlight -> oil process would only need to be 0.0001% efficient to match current oil output. If you could make that 10%, we could send every human alive today to the moon on holiday for a weekend every month.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        But "global hectares per person" isn't just about agriculture...

        Virtually everything we make and consume uses some part of this most general "resource". And this measure includes also, say, oil - after all, it's essentially a way of using "global hectares" from the past! (whihc in itself isn't such terrible thing, but will become harder with time).

        Yet you wanted to look only at the present land area, which gives US 3x higher result...so what, you consume so much that it's far from enough and you end up far

      • by TerranFury (726743) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:49PM (#32139568)

        Is it acceptable to kill 90% of all humans alive so that the remainder could be slightly healther (live 5 years longer) ?

        Almost.

        It is unacceptable to kill humans. It is however acceptable to reduce our birth rate to beneath our death rate -- something which has already occurred in industrialized nations. This admittedly has the unfortunate side effect of burdening the young with a disproportionate number of old people to care for, but in the long run I think it's the route to the highest average happiness.

        For the alternative -- a steady increase in population -- look what happens in societies where the number of people vastly outstrips the availability of resources and jobs (e.g., India). The result is a kind of hypercompetition that drives many people to emigrate to places with lower population densities and more jobs (e.g. the US, wealthy middle-eastern states, Europe). What happens when there's nowhere to emigrate to?

        If we don't reduce our population, your children will be fighting other peoples' children tooth and nail for their entire frantic lives.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CAIMLAS (41445)

          It is unacceptable to kill humans. It is however acceptable to reduce our birth rate to beneath our death rate -- something which has already occurred in industrialized nations.

          Unfortunately, if you decrease your national birth rate for enough generations or very rapidly (ie over 50 or so years) you will soon see an increasing death rate: the population age levels will either be unsustainable (ie too many older people) or you will be invaded and conquered by a more populous and less concerned nation.

          (See: Mexico and the US; much of Arabia and Africa and Eastern Europe.)

  • Cross breeding... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iago-vL (760581) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:23AM (#32138424)

    I'm sure it doesn't help that the plants that are resistant to roundup will cross-pollinate with the weeds that are supposed to be killed with roundup, thereby making everything resistant. I remember people saying a long time ago that this would happen, and here we are!

    • Just as the patent on Roundup Ready soybeans [nytimes.com] is about to run out, the Roundup Ready weeds come out. Coincidence?
      • by mgbastard (612419)
        That'd be a hell of a smoking gun... if introduction of a Roundup2/soybeanRR2 comes soon... But... Is it even illegal? I'm having trouble thinking of a civil tort that would apply. I'm about to old man it, but we are not advanced enough to be mass deploying genetically engineered foods, pesticides & weeds. We'll end up doing what the nukes never did, but slowly: Leaving the whole surface dust.
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I'm sure it doesn't help that the plants that are resistant to roundup will cross-pollinate with the weeds that are supposed to be killed with roundup,

      The definition of species is the inability to reproduce outside a given genetic group. Corn doesn't reproduce with ragweed. Nice try though.

      • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara...hudson@@@barbara-hudson...com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:44AM (#32138572) Journal

        I'm sure it doesn't help that the plants that are resistant to roundup will cross-pollinate with the weeds that are supposed to be killed with roundup,

        The definition of species is the inability to reproduce outside a given genetic group. Corn doesn't reproduce with ragweed. Nice try though.

        Nonsense. Horse, meet donkey. Go, mule, go!

        • I do wish you hadn't used the example where the end result is the "EOL" for breeding.

          Pick the example of Transposons a.k.a. "jumping genes" instead.

          Its closer to the actual mechanism anyway.

      • And that generally holds true. One thing I learned in biology (college) was that plants rarely pay attention to silly human rules. If they did, things such as grafted trees just wouldn't exist (the graft would die).

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          And that generally holds true. One thing I learned in biology (college) was that plants rarely pay attention to silly human rules. If they did, things such as grafted trees just wouldn't exist (the graft would die).

          You know, trees clone themselves by dropping pointy branches in the mud, but I'm pretty damned sure they don't graft themselves. They have a hard time wrapping the tape. I suppose it's not impossible but I'd really have to see an example :)

          • Re:Cross breeding... (Score:5, Informative)

            by jc42 (318812) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:09PM (#32139710) Homepage Journal

            You know, trees clone themselves by dropping pointy branches in the mud, but I'm pretty damned sure they don't graft themselves. They have a hard time wrapping the tape.

            Actually, there have been numerous reports of trees with interlaced branches ending up with a "graft", in which two branches' bark layers are rubbed off enough for the cambium layers to connect. It's extremely rare, of course, since any good storm that comes along during the initial stages will tear open the graft.

            Grafting also works between different plant species, because they don't have immune systems. But it only works between closely-related plants (roughly meaning in the same family) because the vascular systems have to be compatible enough to interoperate. It works a lot better within clumps of a single species.

            There's another situation in which grafting is common: Closely-related trees growing together often end up with their root systems inter-connected via grafts. Storms don't tear such underground grafts apart, after all. The process is described in horticulture textbooks, and is known to be important in at least a few species. This provides a path that internal parasites can use to spread among a clump of trees. Some trees in arid areas have been found to pump water from a source to trees farther away via their interconnected root system, allowing the clump to extend somewhat farther from a stream or spring than they could otherwise.

            As usual, there's a brief description of the process [wikipedia.org] at wikipedia. Read also the next section on graft hybrids. Also, check out the link to +Laburnocytisus 'Adamii' [wikipedia.org], a chimera that whose tissues consist of a mixture of cells of two different small trees.

    • by sp3d2orbit (81173)

      That's like saying a frog will eventually mate with a horse and create a breed of amphibious horses.

  • by jfjfjdk (1260722) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:28AM (#32138448)
    Computer vision is more than adequate to have robots roll around a field, identify weeds, and use either thermal disruption, plucking, or extremely localized weedkiller injection (mLs) right at the base of the weed. All of these approaches are working at the research scale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSxNBwegfo8 [youtube.com] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMF7EuCAVbI [youtube.com] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtgMNj6xCkk [youtube.com] and for harvesting: http://www.optoiq.com/index/display/article-display/303062/articles/vision-systems-design/volume-12/issue-8/features/profile-in-industry-solutions/vision-system-simplifies-robotic-fruit-picking.html [optoiq.com] but with below-minimum-wage foreign labor and generic Roundup too cheap to bother, it will take legislative action to make the switch. Write your congressman.
  • Hallelujah! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:29AM (#32138460) Homepage Journal

    They are spreading throughout North America, creating headaches for farmers and posing 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,' according to Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

    Hooray! This isn't really true, though. It's the single largest threat to so-called "green revolution" production agriculture that we have ever seen — and good riddance. Production agriculture simply means the production of food (including animal products) for sale, and hopefully, profit. The only type of agriculture threatened by pesticide-resistant weeds is that which is dependent on pesticides. This development will not affect permaculture and organic farmers, the former of which can produce more food per acre than factory farming. It requires substantially more manpower to grow crops in guilds, which essentially eliminates the opportunity for mechanical cultivation, but at a time when unemployment is at an all-time high, it seems reasonable to use manpower to solve problems. Meanwhile, the contradictorily named "green revolution" methods of using machines and chemicals to grow plants is harmful to soil, and leads to less-nutritious food overall.

    • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jimicus (737525) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:38AM (#32138528)

      There is, of course, the bijou issue-ette that organic farming produces substantially less product per acre, meaning you need a hell of a lot more space to grow the same amount of food. Meanwhile, population (and hence demand for food) is growing.

      • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:54AM (#32138632) Homepage Journal

        There is, of course, the bijou issue-ette that organic farming produces substantially less product per acre, meaning you need a hell of a lot more space to grow the same amount of food. Meanwhile, population (and hence demand for food) is growing.

        Permaculture, a type of organic farming, can produce more food per acre than factory farming. Further, a great deal of food goes to waste today. What we really need to improve the quality of food and the efficiency of food production is more point-of-use production of food, so that it doesn't have to travel so far. Up to 50% of a typical produce shipment across the country will end up as waste due to spoilage in transit alone. You need either more space or more workers, but we do have more workers. Unemployment is off the hook.

        Even if you did need more space, it would still be true that factory farming is unsustainable. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that fertilizing crops with petroleum has serious negative repercussions. It does take someone who knows something about farming to understand the full negative impact of factory farming, however. When you run machines over soil you create hardpan which causes problems with soil drainage, leading to anaerobic conditions which breed harmful bacteria, also killing off beneficials. When you spray artificial fertilizers and pesticides on it, you kill biological components of the soils including fungal mycelium, beneficial bacteria, and nematodes. Healthy topsoil is over 60% organic matter, and as much as 40% of living soil may be made up of living components. "Green revolution" farming destroys healthy soil, and turns it into a sterile hydroponic growth medium which literally cannot be used to produce food without providing all of the food that the plant needs. Organic foods have also been shown to have higher nutrient content than processed foods; it is believed that this is in part due to the ability of healthy soil to provide nutrients needed by plants. In organic gardening, you feed the soil, not the plant. Of course, another part is that organic gardeners are harvesting by hand and typically delivering product closer to home, and thus they are free to grow varieties other than those which may be easily handled by machine and shipped long distances.

        Nature never grows plants in monocultures like this. Even a redwood forest (redwoods are very good at suppressing competing plants) has an understory. In nature, plants tend to grow in groups of the same or similar plants, each plant providing something that its neighbors need. This arrangement is known as a guild in permaculture, and it is indeed one of the primary bases of the concept. The classic example is the "three sisters [wikipedia.org]" of corn, beans, and squash; the corn provides a trellis for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen for the corn and the squash, and the squash provides shade which reduces water loss and suppresses competitors — i.e. weeds. In such an arrangement, yields are increased as compared to growing monocultural rows which invite mass invasions of pests and which require liberal applications of chemicals to operate. However, such plantings cannot be harvested mechanically with the means currently at our disposal, robotics being perhaps on the cusp of being able to do this economically, but not quite actually being there. Or in short, everything is inferior about "green revolution" farming save for profit.

        • by MoonBuggy (611105)

          Or in short, everything is inferior about "green revolution" farming save for profit.

          Profit drives everything. You may not like it, but that's the world that you live in.

          If you realistically want change, you'll either need to start convincing people that they're harming their long term profitability for short term gain (which won't matter to those who intend to leave after the short term peak blows over), or make permaculture more profitable than factory farming in the short term.

          Although I don't know about farming specifically, I'd suggest that the latter option is more plausible, based on

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Vellmont (569020)


          Or in short, everything is inferior about "green revolution" farming save for profit.

          How about price? When I've priced organic foods vs. non-organic foods, it's often times about twice the price. That may be all well and good for IT people who tend to make good wages, but for most people a 2 times jump in price isn't affordable.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jc42 (318812)

            When I've priced organic foods vs. non-organic foods, it's often times about twice the price.

            Try googling for the concept of "agricultural subsidy" for a good part of the explanation. One of the reasons that corporate farming is cheap is that you're paying for part of it through your taxes, which in turn get handed to the ag corporations as subsidies.

            Of course, sometimes there are good reasons for such subsidies. Agriculture has a lot of risks, and farms without government support tend to go bankrupt afte

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sp3d2orbit (81173)

          If this were true then every farmer would be doing it. There is no economic incentive to use a less efficient method of farming out of spite for the environment.

          • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:48PM (#32139554) Homepage Journal

            If this were true then every farmer would be doing it. There is no economic incentive to use a less efficient method of farming out of spite for the environment.If this were true then every farmer would be doing it.

            Indeed, most small farmers who have not gone organic (or to some other value-add, such as a prepared product based on their produce) are facing economic ruin. But only large agribusiness is able to make money by hiring large numbers of illegals and having them deported without themselves facing penalties, for example; only large agribusiness is able to amass the large quantities of flat land necessary to profitably machine-cultivate crops in today's market; large agribusiness collects the lion's share of [unnecessary] farm subsidies, which make their mode of operation profitable.

            There is no economic incentive to use a less efficient method of farming out of spite for the environment.

            What is efficient about throwing away our best compost (human feces) by expensively processing it and dumping it into waterways which are then used as a source of drinking water again downstream, while meanwhile pumping sequestered carbon out of the ground and turning it into pesticides and fertilizer, then using still more of this sequestered carbon to make fuels which are then burned in the process of moving machines around to spray these chemicals on the fields? When you examine the system, our current mode is almost as inefficient as you could imagine.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        There is, of course, the bijou issue-ette that organic farming produces substantially less product per acre, meaning you need a hell of a lot more space to grow the same amount of food. Meanwhile, population (and hence demand for food) is growing.

        The problem with your statement is:
        1. in order to prop up prices, the Government is/has been paying farmers not to plant crops.
        2. organic farmers are growing vastly more, on less acreage, than their grandparents did.
        3. even if organic farming produces "substantially less product per acre", it commands a premium that more than makes up for the extra work and lower yield

        I just find it hard to match your statements with the facts on the ground.
        I mean, come on! The Government is paying farmers not to plant.

      • nuts (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zogger (617870)

        That's just not true. Heavy chemical farming allows an individual farmer to grow on more acres with x amount labor, using what they call no till, but the yields are not all that impressive compared to good rich organic soil type growing. Now seed varieties make a difference, but square foot to square foot, given the same seeds, good healthy compost rich soil is outstanding. Shoot, I see that even with hay. Our fields, that get chicken litter fertilizer, consistently out perform the neighbors fields across t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by conureman (748753)

      This is only a threat to the Agri-business monopolies. The price of production should go up a bit, and allow more small farmers to compete with less capital-intensive methods. In other words, it will level the playing field. Dear God, it sounds like we need to pass a stimulus bill. Isn't Monsanto too big to fail?

    • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:43AM (#32138560) Homepage

      but at a time when unemployment is at an all-time high, it seems reasonable to use manpower to solve problems.

      Why do you think that Americans want to go back to tilling the soil? We've left it to immigrants, who feel forced by poverty to fruit-pick and such, but even they don't wish such a fate for their children. Sorry, but backbreaking work in the fields is not seen as progress by any developing or developed country. If farming with modern techniques is an evil, it's still preferable to mankind having to do more work for less benefit. Much of my family right now is dealing with unemployment, but there are certain jobs they will not stoop to because it contradicts everything that was promised about life in today's high-tech world getting steadily more leisurely.

      Meanwhile, the contradictorily named "green revolution" methods ... leads to less-nutritious food overall.

      The scientific community overwhelmingly denies that your precious organic food is any more nutritious. But I'm sure people just looking at the plain-as-day lab results are all puppets of a shadowy corporate conspiracy, eh?

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Why do you think that Americans want to go back to tilling the soil?

        This is a red herring. The most intelligent way to farm is without tilling. You can use root/tuber crops, and cover crops with deep tap roots, to do all the tilling you need. We plant mustard in our garden every year to overwinter the beds.

        We've left it to immigrants, who feel forced by poverty to fruit-pick and such, but even they don't wish such a fate for their children.

        The reason citizens don't want to do those jobs is that they don't pay. They don't pay because big agribusiness has succeeded in getting immigration authorities to ignore their malfeasance; it is illegal to hire illegal aliens, but just try to get one of these big compani

        • by CRCulver (715279)

          The reason citizens don't want to do those jobs is that they don't pay. They don't pay because big agribusiness has succeeded in getting immigration authorities to ignore their malfeasance

          People were leaving in droves from American agriculture well before illegal immigration reached major levels. Again, agriculture is simply not work that people want to do. Even if you pay high salaries, the effort required is seen as too great compared to working in, say, the service industry.

      • Why do you think that Americans want to go back to tilling the soil? We've left it to immigrants, who feel forced by poverty to fruit-pick and such

        You answered your own question with the same logic he used in the first place: Forced by poverty.

        *ding* Fries are done!

        Not all jobs are awesome, but everyone needs one.

        • by CRCulver (715279)

          Not all jobs are awesome, but everyone needs one.

          People need a job that makes them happy. Better to have people receiving public assistance while they wait for a job that meets their interests and qualifications than force people to take anything they can get. Yes, your taxes are a couple of percentage points higher if you're working, but quality of life in your country goes through the roof.

          • by rhakka (224319)

            Actually, people cannot be made happy by a job. You are either a happy person or you are not. If you are, your job doesn't matter much. If you are not, no job will fix it. Only you can.

            not to say some jobs don't suck, but it is most assuredly not better for anyone other than a selfish individual to have people refuse work that is below their arbitrary designation of what is worthy of their interests and qualifications. the proper method is to work, and look for a different job while working, if you don

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:30AM (#32138462)

    "However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds."

    Am I the only one that read this as a good thing? Prior to Roundup farmers cross pollinated more resistant plants in order to improve them, this slow and gradual process never generated insane weeds. Monsanto has been known for a lot of shady practices anyway. Anything to discourage farmers from using their products is great.

  • ... and we're the designers.

    This was predictable for anyone who believes in evolution. We've known since the early '70s that bacteria can pass genes back and forth. We've known for a while that plants can pass genes on to animals (http://science.slashdot.org/story/10/05/02/2215251/Aphids-Color-Comes-From-a-Fungus-Gene?from=rss [slashdot.org]). A combination of natural selection and gene transfer makes this not only expected, but inevitable.

    Franken-weeds.

    • This was predictable for anyone who believes in evolution.

      Maybe if people were less concerned with getting people to believe and more with getting people to understand...

    • by Jer (18391)

      Of course it's predictable. And Monsanto either got lucky or figured out the probabilities before hand given that their "Round-up ready" crops are getting ready to fall out of patent protection sometime in the next few years. Just as they're ready to lose their monopoly, their crop becomes useless.

      If it wasn't luck that's "planned obsolescence" at its finest. I actually will not be surprised if Monsanto has a new crop that is immune to a new herbicide ready to go sometime shortly after their patent expir

  • old ways (Score:4, Interesting)

    by confused one (671304) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:33AM (#32138482)
    I guess we'll have to stop managing by chemistry alone and use some of the old methods again. Renaissance time for small farmers?
  • by Beretta Vexe (535187) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:33AM (#32138484)

    Can they sue mother nature, she obliviously infringes some Monsanto patents with her round up ready weed?

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:33AM (#32138488)
    Examples like this show natural selection in practice. You don't have to wait thousands of years to see Evolution. It is happening all around you everyday. Superweeds are a predictable outcome of pesticide usage.
    • by chudnall (514856)

      Not really a blow to creation science. Don't get me wrong - I think evolution has more than enough science behind it to accept it as fact. But I also think it's good to try to really understand all sides of an argument. Just casually flipping through a creationism book will show that creationists don't have any problems with natural selection - which is what this is. It's the idea of evolution - one species turning into an entirely different species - that gets their panties in a bunch. Just using natural s

      • by blueg3 (192743)

        No, changing the prevalence of a genetic trait in a population through natural selection is evolution. It's not, however, speciation -- which, as you correctly point out, is what creationists really have a problem with.

    • Examples like this show natural selection in practice.

      They simply moved the goal post: So you have overwhelming evidence of evolution at the molecular level, they're forced to admit that it's happening, reluctantly, but their new goal is that they want overwhelming evidence of new organs. Prove THAT, Johnny Science!

  • by inflex (123318) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:38AM (#32138530) Homepage Journal

    We're seeing the same thing starting around here in subtle ways. Our neighbour uses various things to cull the 'weeds' (grass damnit!) on his farm plot, however every season the tough stuff comes back faster (thorns, prickles, even Parthenium now is coming back) and he's spraying more frequently to try compensate. What's more annoying is that we're trying to run an organic system here and his washoff and overspray tends to drift into our property, causing our natural grasses to die back a fair distance into our property as well as tainting the orchard crop closest to the boundary.

    All that's happened with agriculture is that we've traded the future for short term gains. Time to put away the toxic stuff and start living with less than perfect harvests, at least it's better than -no- harvest (also, stop trying to grow stuff where it really doesn't belong damnit!)

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      traded the future for short term gains.

      Isn't that the way that most publicly traded companies are run these days as well?

      • That's the way our (the US's) entire society is being run. Give tax cuts so people can buy yet another HDTV, and meanwhile sit around watching our infrastructure crumble. Spend $10 on a blender that will break in a year rather than spending $30 on a blender that will last 10 years. Reward CEOs who can get big returns for next quarter, even if it means sacrificing the long-term viability of the company.
  • by holiggan (522846) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:38AM (#32138532)

    ...it's called "evolution".

    It's only natural that the weeds that have been surviving all the herbicide just come up stronger and stronger after each generation, to the point were the herbicide doesn't kill them anymore.

    It's the way that living things behave: the stronger (or better adapted) survive, and the obstacles are slowly but steadily surpassed.

    This is specially noticeable on living beings with a very low generation time (like bugs, plants, some small animals, etc), as the adaptations and mutations crop up relatively fast.

    It's the way biology works, although some people like to have a "meddling god" to explain this all...

  • First, release a product, intended for wide or universal application, with little or no thought to how the larger ecosystem will subvert it. Next, release an infinite number of patches, fixes, and new products to try to put the genie back in the bottle while millions of users continue to shell out money to you and curse your very existence on the planet.

  • He mentioned that certain common weeds would "die-back" to the ground - so they looked dead, but they would spring up later with several stalks, much thicker in the base each time. He and several others would then go back to monsanto, who said it was impossible - until shown the weeds. Monstanto would pay to spray again, and then brought out again to redo the spraying. Roundup, hopefully, will become a

    The funny thing is that a local guy I know has an organic farm, with very few problems due to his use of

  • We'll just send in Chinese Needle Snakes which will exterminate the weeds.

  • Roundup has been in use for as long as I can remember, 40+ years. It's great due to it's ability to kill a plant completely and then breakdown in the soil to inert ingredients. But I have to wonder if part of the problem with the weeds becoming resistant is due to the bacteria used to make the roundup ready crops. Seems that it's more possible for a bacteria to be passed from one plant to another, and since the first resistant strain was found in 2000, there has been ten years for the bacteria to spread to
  • Karma's a bitch, hey Monsanto?

  • When I was in Business School, about 5 years ago, I wrote about South America and its addiction to Round-Up Ready crops. Monsanto was trying to get money out of them because they refused to pay for the seeds. Instead the farmers were keeping seeds from year to year. Eventually, Monsanto came to an agreement with the governments to collect licensing fees for their seeds.

    Since Round-Up was working so well and they were keeping the seeds around from year to year and sharing with their neighbors. At the time

  • From the article:

    Monsanto, which once argued that resistance would not become a major problem, now cautions against exaggerating its impact. “It’s a serious issue, but it’s manageable,”

  • I'd like the evolution deniers to come explain this. Yes, it only takes two successive reproductions for the resistance mutation to be successful. And pretty soon it's spreading all over the land mass. Billions and billions of chances for the right mutation to have occurred since the resistant crops and Roundup spraying combination was introduced. Roundup takes care of all the competition in the gene pool pretty efficiently! I just pray that the evolution deniers that couldn't forsee this don't conclude t
  • Nobody Ever Learns (Score:4, Interesting)

    by IonOtter (629215) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:11PM (#32139264) Homepage

    In the 50's, my mom was a nurse, and the most powerful weapon the hospital had at the time were the penicillins. It was a miracle, and it saved hundreds of people in the hospital she worked in.

    But mom saw the danger. She warned the doctors, "Don't overuse them, the bugs will get used to it." She used to pester the doctors about it non-stop, but she was a woman and a nurse. What did she know? She also warned them that using too much would wipe out all the good bugs and make things worse for the patient.

    Sure enough, one patient got overdosed and their gut flora were wiped out. After trying to figure out what to do with a patient that was dying of starvation and dehydration from the lack of good gut bugs, they gave them "shit soup" through a nasal tube. The doctors were "amazed" at their recovery. Duh?!

    Mom watched the doctors start prescribing antibiotics for everything. By the time she left in the late sixties, she was already seeing antibiotic resistant staph that plowed through penicillin like it was candy.

    Dad was a landscaper, and he saw the same thing with weed killers, fertilizers and bug spray. Sure, it killed the weeds one year, but they always came back, stronger than before. It used to be you could wipe out all the Japanese beetles in the cherry tree with half an ounce of Malathion in two gallons of water, and the stench wasn't so bad. Now you have to use two, sometimes three ounces, since only a half ounce made the bugs stoned, but little else. And lemme tell you, Southampton mosquitoes are among some of the most heavily sprayed, since the rich people don't like getting bitten.

    Now they're impossible to kill.

    We've known about this for at least 75 years or more, we've just chosen to ignore it because it's easier and more profitable to think in the short term, and hope the bill never comes.

    Well guess what. The bill is on the table, and now we gotta cough up.

  • by caseih (160668) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:05PM (#32139684)

    There are quite a few comment being posted by people who clearly aren't farmers and don't have a real clue as to where their food comes from. In fact several folks express a deep ignorance, which I could excuse, but then they go on to make claims and call for action. As a medium-scale farmer myself, I feel like I know enough about the issues to reply accurately. In no particular order, I state a few points.

    1. Farmers are price takers. In other words, if you want to change agriculture, you have to do it on the demand side of the equation. If you think that raising costs for farmers will change behavior, you are wrong; that will merely drive farmers out of business. Instead maybe try to figure out why the price of food in the supermarket seems to have no relation to the commodity prices farmers are paid. Near as I can tell, the amount of wheat in a loaf of bread is pennies. Yet a loaf of bread is running at $3 in some places. If the current food prices trickled down to farmers, they could more easily absorb the increased cost of certain herbicide regulations, etc.

    2. Unless you want to condemn billions of people to death, world food production has to double over the next 15 years, according to most forecasters. The only way I can see to do this is by trying to develop more environmentally sustainable methods of high-intensity farming that reduce our reliance on herbicides. As well I agree with Louise Fresco who thinks that agriculture can and should be done on rooftops and balconies in cities everywhere. Or maybe even city parks. Get city folks more involved with the food production process.

    3. Permaculture and other similar ideas are good ones, but they don't scale very well in our economy, and forcing it through regulation won't work either (see #1). Currently just a few percent of the world's population now provide food for the rest and this number is dropping because of tremendous economic pressures placed on farmers. In other words farm life is a lot more strenuous that city life, and commodity prices have been pushed (by you, the city folk) to historic lows. Only the largest operators now remain. If you are willing to pay between even more for your food, perhaps more small permaculture farms would pop up.

    4. Contributing to #2, European and American subsidies are having a tremendous negative impact on food production around the world. These subsidies keep the prices artificially low, effectively eliminating all but subsistence agriculture in Africa, and promoting the use of herbicides on a mass scale across the developed world. At the same time the subsides are promoting the practices that bring about the problems mentioned in the article. Indeed write your congressmen or EU parliamentarian on this one and demand that subsidies be removed.

    5. Computer vision and herbicides only really work well in the practice of fallowing. It's easy to spot something green amongst a fallow field that's all brown, and spray it. And even there the cost of such a system is quite prohibitive still, so it hasn't reached the actual market yet. Computer vision in the fruit industry has little bearing on the issues of roundup resistant weeds in the article. The main food crops are cereals, legumes, and oilseeds. In these cases, weed control by vision is a lot harder as at the early stages it is hard even for a human to discern between a weed and a crop plant. It's not at all like an orchard. Crops are seeded in narrow rows, but the rows themselves are not little lines; we try to spread the seed out get get better germination and better growth. Thus weed and crop plants can be anywhere in 6-inch wide strips, the average distance between each strip's center is between 6 and 10", typically (we're not talking about row crops here).
    I am a CS major and follow computer vision developments. We're just not there yet. So there's nothing to write Congress about yet. Hopefully that will change in the future.

    6. Tillage is the number one reason we now have the overall weed proble

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I'm also a farmer...went back to it after trying programming and hvac controls for a few years. Used to be considered a large farm, but now probably mid-sized (7000 acres at the high point when I was farming with family). I completely agree with all your points. There is a lot of naivete around this issue which looks quite ignorant from those of us who work in the field (pun intended). The hate-on for Monsanto is largely misplaced, IMO. The way farming was done before roundup became so prevalent was mu
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Fantastic Lad (198284)

        Hm. I only buy food from farmers I trust, and I avoid GM foods like the plague. I'll happily pay more for organic and grass-fed. The farmers I know who use sensible tactics are very well-educated and scientifically aware people; there's a lot of very new knowledge available. I actually attended a lecture just on the subject of soil and the various micro-organisms living in it and the complimentary/interdependent roles played by such. One of the speakers presented state of the art biological science in

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