Based on trends over the last decade, it’s difficult to tell whether the end game of biotechnology is to help farmers or to have more products to sell. While persistent weeds are possibly the single greatest obstacle to successful production in the South, the past has shown that Mother Nature is more clever than human beings and silver bullets quickly need reloading.
Since glyphosate-resistant pigweed was first found in Georgia in 2004, biotech companies have been scrambling to come up with a new genetically modified cotton that could manage the “superweed,” whose seed-packed panicles wave smugly over the fields of South Georgia. Glyphosate, known commercially as Roundup, was once a silver bullet for conventional growers trying to control weeds that robbed nutrients from the soil. But an overuse of the chemical herbicide led to unintended natural selection. One particular species of pigweed, which developed a genetic mutation with glyphosate resistance, was left standing: Palmer amaranth.
For the biotech industry the new answer to control Palmer amaranth, which has spread from 500 acres in Macon County to over two million across the state, is essentially more of the same. Monsanto’s new proprietary cotton promises a triple-stacked package of herbicide tolerance—glyphosate, dicamba and glufosinate. To be clear, that’s three times as many chemicals and potentially three times as many inputs for farmers to buy.
Using more chemicals to solve chemically induced problems evokes the old saw about doing the same thing over and over amounting to insanity. In no other aspect of American life is chemical dependence acceptable. We should hold agriculture to the same standard.