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Published December 13, 2009, 11:27 PM

Weeds evolve to get Roundup Ready

A recent study by an agricultural economist shows that Roundup Ready cropping systems are losing profitability and increasing pesticide use, but some area farmers and agronomists disagree.

By: Beth Wischmeyer ,

A recent study by an agricultural economist shows that Roundup Ready cropping systems are losing profitability and increasing pesticide use, but some area farmers and agronomists disagree.

According to a report issued in late November by Charles Benbrook, an agricultural economist with the Organic Center, Roundup Ready systems are the major factor in the net overall increase of 318 million pounds of pesticide-active ingredient applied to U.S. farmland since 1996.

Growing weed resistance to Roundup — a weed-killing compound — has resulted in increased use in addition to over-the-top herbicides and will further increase the amount of pesticide applied to U.S. farmland, according to the report.

“When you have a Roundup Ready crop, it means that the crop has been genetically modified,” said Todd Leake, a farmer from Emerado, N.D., and spokesperson for the Dakota Resource Council. “Meaning that it’s had a foreign gene from a bacteria put into the plant. When you spray Roundup on the crop, then what happens is that the crop doesn’t die from the Roundup herbicide but the other weeds are supposed to die from it.”

Roundup Ready cropping systems began in about 2000, he added.

Richardton, N.D., farmer Greg Messer said he’s been using Roundup Ready corn, canola and alfalfa since they were available and said he hasn’t found issues with the product, nor has he had to increase pesticide use on his land.

“It’s a tool for farmers to use to be able to manage their acres,” Messer said.

Roundup Ready systems were an easy solution, Leake said.

“The idea is you put down the seed, it grows, you wait for the weeds to grow, and then you spray the Roundup herbicide on the whole field, and that kills the weeds, and then the soybeans, for example, continue to grow,” Leake said. “It was an easy herbicide system.”

Leake said the weeds are evolving, and producers are pushing the evolution of them because they are putting the “selective agent out there.”

“We’re going into the field, and we’re killing off all of the ones that are susceptible to the herbicide, leaving the ones that had a certain amount of resistance to pollinate each other,” Leake said. “The only ones that we’re not killing are the ones that we’re reproducing.”

Resistant weeds, according to the report, are forcing producers to double up on herbicide usage.

“A lot of farmers experiencing these resistant weeds, the first thing they do is increase the rate of Roundup that they put on the field,” Leake said. “It gets more expensive to use the Roundup herbicide.”

The report estimates an average of more than $200-per-acre operating costs for Roundup Ready soybean farmers, “leaving just $34 to cover land, labor, management, debt, and all other fixed costs,” leaving “little or no room for profit.”

The Roundup Ready gene is owned by Monsanto, he added.

“They own many, many companies and they franchise that out to other companies,” Leake said.

Mark Egan with the Beach Cooperative Grain Co. said the co-op sells Roundup Ready corn, but hasn’t heard of any issues from growers in the area.

The Dickinson Press and the Herald are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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