From GENE LOGSDON
Those words come not from anti-Monsanto sources looking for excuses to discredit chemical weed killers, but from Big Farming itself. More and more weeds are becoming immune to glyphosate (Roundup) and the chemical companies are moving forward as fast as they can to find new genes they can stack in corn and soybeans to make them immune to other weed killers, especially 2, 4-D to which weeds have not built up much resistance in over 60 years.
At the risk of underestimating readers, I really doubt that the public at large understands how absolutely essential herbicides are to large acreage agriculture. Very large farms just could not exist without them. At least at present, there is no mechanical way to control weeds on that scale. It was hard enough controlling them with cultivation when farms were small. Even then weed cultivation was only effective if hay and pasture crops were rotated with the grains. To control weeds with machines on large farms would mean leaving a third or so of the land out of grain production every year. It would mean hiring people with hoes to walk the corn and bean rows like I did as a boy to get rid of the weeds that neither cultivation nor crop rotation kept at bay.
Are you thinking the same thing I’m thinking? “Going back” to cultivation, legume rotations, and millions more smaller farms with family members and hired help to control weeds sounds like a good idea to me. Walking bean rows with a hoe is not brutalizing unless done in excess. (It is almost fun if there is a chance of finding Indian arrowheads as you walk along.) Is there any way to dispute the conclusion that the benefits to the labor force, the environment and democracy would be enormous? If the change came gradually, as it would certainly come, even the wealthy landowners would not suffer as they sold off chunks of their estates at prices higher than they paid for them.
The plan right now, as far as I can read, is to return to dependency on 2, 4-D for weed control, along with glyphosate, and adding genes to the farm crops that make them resistant to both. Some genes have been discovered that might work to immunize crop plants to 2, 4-D, and now the chemical companies have to come up with favorable environmental impact studies for them. This will not be easy. When glyphosate first come on the market, it was sold as being more environmentally friendly than 2, 4-D. If the latter again becomes the major herbicide used… doesn’t sound promising to me.
The contrasts that constantly pop up in any controversy or debate are fascinating. While this effort is underway to save a kind of economy that might be doing more harm than good, over in this other corner there is great consternation over the monarch butterfly, surely as beloved by our civilization as the bluebird. Its numbers are declining precipitously. Among many other threats to its existence, monarchs depend solely on milkweed for survival. Its larvae feed only on milkweed juice. There is — I am quoting Verlyn Klinkenborg in the N.Y.Times now (I love his book, Making Hay)— a direct parallel between the demise of milkweeds killed by glyphosate which is sprayed by the millions of gallons on genetically modified crops, and the steady drop in monarch numbers.
So what are we to do? Supporters of the butterflies say we should grow milkweed in our gardens for the monarchs. There are various kinds of milkweed, almost all of them beautiful. They also harbor other beautiful bugs. But will milkweed in the garden sustain those awesome congregations of millions of monarchs that migrate to Mexico in winter? Or should they be sacrificed for the greater good of a few thousand landed oligarchs owning a Cornbelt barren of everything except modified gene-stacked corn to feed to automobiles.