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Biotech Earth Science

First Superbugs, Now Superweeds 435

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 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 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...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 08, 2010 @10:43AM (#32138568)

    When Monsanto can successfully sue you for patent infringement when a neighbor's seeds blow onto your land, then yes, Monsanto needs to die. If "Roundup Ready" weeds are part of it, bring them on.

    He wasn't sued because some seeds blew onto his land. He was sued because he harvested the product of those seeds and replanted 95% of his field with them the following year.

    By your bizarre logic, the dude that found the iPhone prototype should have gained the right to duplicate and sell it.

  • by garynuman ( 1666499 ) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @11:55AM (#32139146)

    When Monsanto can successfully sue you for patent infringement when a neighbor's seeds blow onto your land, then yes, Monsanto needs to die. If "Roundup Ready" weeds are part of it, bring them on.

    He wasn't sued because some seeds blew onto his land. He was sued because he harvested the product of those seeds and replanted 95% of his field with them the following year.

    By your bizarre logic, the dude that found the iPhone prototype should have gained the right to duplicate and sell it.

    i hope to god you're trolling, in that particular case the farmer had been saving seed for his entire farming career, as many do (and a practice that monsatno is fighting tooth and nail with their so called terminator seeds, which are only viable for one generation) monsanto's seed blew into his field from passing farmers who used it, and against his desire his field was polluted with their product. Monsanto demanded he destroy his entire seed store, which he had been developing his entire life, because their product contaminated his field against his wishes. Not to mention, you iphone example is comically irrelevant, as there are many inherent differences between a living thing that spreads by itself and reproduces ITSELF and a goddamn cell phone, which, unlike canola, wouldn't exist if not constructed by humans. Your logic is flawed beyond defense perhaps you should have at least read up a little about the case before commenting. Maybe then you would have noticed that in 2008 monsanto settled with mr. schmeiser and agreed to pay the clean up cost of removing their product, which he never wanted in the first place, from his fields. He also was not forced to sign the standard monsanto gag order, and the window was left open for him to sue again, should their GM seed contaminate his fields again. This is also a nice precedent for those of us who don't much care for the GM agricultural business. Also who modded this comment interesting? it isn't.

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:13PM (#32139288)

    And he's supposed to know that his crop was cross-pollinated with "patented" food just how? Not everyone can afford expensive testing of their crops.

    I dislike Monsanto as much as the average Slashdotter, but I dislike revisionism too. The farmer tested patches of his crop with Roundup and harvested and replanted those plants which were resistant. He had to have known what the farmers around him were testing, so he was willfully stealing, according to the court.

    I wish the facts had been as they are popularly told, but they are not.

  • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @12:20PM (#32139344)
    Possible side effects? It's already been established for quite some times that these genes can and do spread beyond just the plants they're modifying. The question isn't whether there'll be side effects, the question is what will the side effects be and what's the damage going to be.

    Theoretically it could be helpful, but doubtful. Usually side effects end up causing trouble.
  • 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.

  • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:09PM (#32139712)

    What a bunch of urban farmers....

    You guys don't know squat.

    First off...."pesticide-resistant weeds"? Do you even know what a pesticide is? When I find a weed that is bothered by bugs that leaves my crop alone, I'm all for it.

    As for "organic" farming...organic farming DOES NOT AND CANNOT produce more food per acre than conventional farming. This is simple common sense bore out by the fact that in the US we are farming much less land than we were decades ago, but producing far more output than we ever have before. It's so bad that the government pays us farmers NOT TO FARM traditional farmland to keep produce surpluses down. Former farmlands are even being re-converted into wetlands and wildlife reserves. If everyone runs to organic, all of this land will need to be reclaimed from nature, plus some, in order to keep everyone fat and happy.

    You're right about more manpower needed to grow organic. The problem is that there is not enough manpower available in the growing areas. A while back, most of the US population lived on farms. Now they live in cities. Heavy mechanization in farming came from the precipitous drop in labor available. Are you going to make all those people move out of the cities and back to the farms? Good luck with that.

    Before Roundup was popular, we had yearly bean crews out weeding the soybeans. The problem was as time went on, the bean crews (which usually were kids (8-16 years of age) coming out of the local towns) wanted too much money to be cost effective (way above minimum wage at the time). They also wanted other perks such as vacations, provided meals, etc, etc. We finally just told them all go away.

    We experimented with wet wick application of chemicals on high weeds and electrical shock of high weeds, but neither seemed effective enough to be worth a damn. Spraying Roundup didn't result in completely weed-free fields, either, but it was close enough to let us maintain a profit.

    As far as machines and chemicals being harmful to soil, there has been an on-going improvement in conventional farming techniques that has improved soil conservation dramatically. Example: A few decades ago, it was a farmer's pride to have a extremely well-plowed field with no remnants of the previous crop evident (at least from the road). This type of vain over-plowing turned out to be a very bad idea for the soil as not much was left to hold it in place. Now, modern farmers know that minimum-till methods dramatically improve soil retention, and so no it looks like farmers are planting in fields they never bothered to plow (the lazy bums). As for chemicals being harmful to the soil, forget it. The problem is more chemical run-off. Again techniques are quickly changing to help with this problem, like sat maps that show exactly where chemicals are needed, and GPS distribution systems to accurately apply them.

    Less food nutrition....go away....we've got more than enough nutritious food growing. The US doesn't lack in nutrition....it lacks in sensible eating and exercise habits.

    As for the argument that farmers make more money than organic, that's only because there is a current niche demand for that kind of food. If everyone went organic, the price premium for it would vanish overnight, or, even worse, everyone would be paying the higher prices of organic food.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @01:22PM (#32139806)

    What do you think people have been doing for the past 5000 years???

  • Re:Hallelujah! (Score:3, Informative)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday May 08, 2010 @02:36PM (#32140432) Homepage
    Most of what are now America's big towns and cities were settled in the early 20th century by farmers, or rather their children. Part of this was indeed that agricultural work did not pay enough, but a key factor was that agricultural work has always been considered rough, dirty labor and, furthermore, agriculture tends to keep people in rural areas without access to cultural offerings like large cinemas, theatre or major sporting events. People naturally want to be where the action is. You see this same thing playing out now all over the world as countries develop.
  • by Viceroy Potatohead ( 954845 ) on Saturday May 08, 2010 @03:38PM (#32140882) Homepage
    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 much worse. The environmental costs of the fuel and wear and tear on machinery cultivating out (for instance) quack grass, the economic costs of summer fallowing, the use of chemicals which were far, far, far more noxious than Roundup could ever be made for both less environmental and less economically valuable farming. There are many problems with Monsanto, BASF, and basically any of the seed suppliers or chemical companies, such as the IP issues or breeders rights. Roundup resistant weeds is not an issue. There are other chemicals to deal with that if needed. Roundup resistant broadleafs? Just use 2-4D or MCPA. They've been around forever. They're more toxic than Roundup, but they're not particularly bad. Roundup has drastically reduced the amount of toxic chemicals we spray on our land, and GMO strains of seed tend to make for more efficient, less energy consuming, and less chemically toxic farming. I've been drenched (and swallowed) more Roundup in a day than any thousand people will come in contact with in their lives. Sure we could go back to a mythological, pastoral past, but I don't see that happening. And I know I wouldn't want it, nor would anybody who actually understands the crushing labour it entails. If someone wants me to become an organic farmer, sure, I'll do it. But I'm not carrying the cost. Give me a few hundred thousand a year to offset the (inevitable) loss of profits from organic farming, and I'll be all over it. The sky is not falling over Roundup resistant weeds, and it seems silly to me how some people think it is.

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev