The adoption of the herbicide-tolerant cropping system has been shown to deliver significant environmental and economic benefits. However, the current glyphosate cropping system upon which the majority of growers rely is being threatened by the increasing development of glyphosate-resistant weeds; and so too are the benefits associated with the system. In some areas, farmers have already been forced to revert to older weed control practices, such as mechanical tillage, which can negatively affect soil and water quality. Reductions in the practice of conservation or reduced tillage will inevitably increase agriculture’s environmental footprint. Furthermore, the additional work required to maintain a weed-free crop yield results in increases in labor, fuel and management costs.
Environmental and Economic Benefits are Threatened
The current glyphosate-tolerant cropping system provides significant benefits which could be lost if a new solution compatible with this way of farming is not brought to the market.
Herbicide-tolerant crops, such as glyphosate-tolerant, have been associated with an increased use of conservation tillage, in particular no-till methods, which improves water quality and enhances soil quality characteristics.
Conservation tillage leaves crop residue from previous years on the fields (such as corn stalks) before and after planting the next crop. By leaving crop residue undisturbed for as long as possible, microbial and other biological activity in the soil feeds on the stalks, leaves and other crop residues. This increases organic matter, improves soil tilth, and ultimately, increases soil productivity.
"Being a good steward of technologies used in our operation is extremely important to us, as we are essentially farming inside an urban area. We strive to demonstrate to our urban neighbors how we can safely utilize new technology in row crop farming."
- Warren Stemme, farmer, Missouri
However, these benefits are threatened due to the increasing prevalence of resistant weeds. Farmers in some areas have had to revert to older weed control practices, such as conventional tillage, which uses cultivation as a primary means to control weeds. Conventional tillage can negatively affect soil and water quality which inevitably increases agriculture’s environmental footprint.
Conventional till requires a sequence of operations, including plowing, disking, cultivating, planting, fertilizing and harvesting, which may involve up to 15 passes on the field with heavy farm equipment, exposing bare soil and greatly increasing the threat of erosion, increasing costs and decreasing productivity.
According to the Conservation Technology Information Centre, conservation tillage offers numerous benefits that conventional tillage cannot match. For example, conservation tillage can reduce soil erosion by 90 percent due to crop residues on the soil surface which reduce erosion and runoff from wind and water. Additionally, conservation tillage and the use of herbicides have reduced reliance on fuel to power tractors for cultivation by 50 percent.
The percentage of no-till acres in the Unites States has risen steadily over the past 20 years, from five percent to over 35 percent. In fact, in Georgia, water use for agricultural irrigation has reduced by 9 percent because of no-till crop production, which translates into enough water to sustain 2.8 million people per year.
Conservation and no-till operations also mean fewer hours on a tractor and fewer labor hours to pay…or more acres to farm. For instance, on 500 acres the time savings can be as much as 225 hours per year. That’s almost four 60-hour weeks.
Reduced Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas EmissionsConservation tillage promotes additional soil carbon storage and has contributed significantly to reducing the release of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural practices.
Since 1973, farm output has grown 63 percent while direct energy consumption has declined 26 percent. As a result, direct energy use per unit of agricultural output is 50 percent less today than it was in the 1970’s.
These statistics are also confirmed in a study by Field to Market, The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, which indicates energy use per unit of output has dropped in corn, soybean and cotton production by nearly 40 to more than 60 percent, while carbon emissions per unit of output have decreased by about a third for these three crops.
The Future of Herbicide-Tolerant Crop Technology
Without diversification of current weed control practices, growers face the risk of losing the environmental benefits gained from conservation tillage and herbicide-tolerant crops, such as reduced soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. A solution must be found that maintains and continues to leverage the multiple benefits of conservation tillage and herbicide-tolerant crop technology. Dow AgroSciences has focused on developing a solution that does just that.
Dow AgroSciences is developing the Enlist™ Weed Control System for improved weed control performance, offering an additional mode-of-action to help sustain the long-term effectiveness of the current cropping system and the environmental and economic benefits the system provides.
Watch this short video to learn more about the challenge and threat of resistant and hard-to-control weeds.
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Gain insight from scientists, growers and others about increasingly hard-to-control and resistant weeds and the need for a solution.
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