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Farmers Reach for Big Guns as Super Weeds Refuse to Die (re Monsanto)

Alex Constantine - May 7, 2012

Also see: "Apparently there was a riot-and it stopped Monsanto in Nepal!"


By Nicole Hasham

Sydney Morning Herald, May 8, 2012


ipad art wide AAA 20ld 20 420x0 300x217 - Farmers Reach for Big Guns as Super Weeds Refuse to Die (re Monsanto)"Glyphosate is one of the biggest [weed resistance] problems because it's such  an important herbicide. It's got huge value to the farming system" ... weed  expert, Chris Preston. Photo: Kirk Gilmour

FARMERS are being forced to use poisonous chemicals and revert to outdated  tilling methods to cope with a growing breed of herbicide-resistant "super  weeds".

The problem, triggered by overuse of the popular weedkiller Roundup, poses  health and environmental risks, including soil pollution and toxicity to humans,  and is substantially driving up farm costs.

Since the 1980s, Roundup, otherwise known as glyphosate, has been heralded as  a farming panacea - cheap, easy to use and relatively safe. But in several  countries, including Australia, an over-reliance means weeds have evolved to  withstand it.

The first glyphosate-resistant weed in Australia, annual ryegrass, emerged in  1996. Another five have since been added to the list.

In cities, authorities are also battling glyphosate-resistant weeds on  roadsides and railway lines.

Monsanto, the owner of the Roundup brand, is the world's leading glyphosate  producer, however the chemical is also sold under other brands.

A leading Adelaide-based weed expert, Chris Preston, said the chemical had  become "a victim of its own success".

"Glyphosate is one of the biggest [weed resistance] problems because it's  such an important herbicide. It's got huge value to the farming system," he  said.

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said as  glyphosate use continues, ''the number of resistant plants will continue to  multiply''.

Alternative chemicals and tillage, which can also lead to soil erosion, "may  result in health [and] environmental risks from using herbicides that are more  toxic to mammals or remain in the soils,'' he said.

Glyphosate-resistant weeds can also stifle crop yields and lead to higher  farm costs, including fuel for machinery and more expensive herbicides.

Most cases of glyphosate resistance in Australia occur in northern NSW, where  year-round rainfall, and resulting weeds, have led to heavy use of the  herbicide.

Grain and pulse farmer Graeme Constance, of Bellata, near Narrabri, has  reverted to selective tilling and older herbicides known to cause nosebleeds and  enter groundwater systems.

The world-first glyphosate-resistant species of awnless barnyard grass was  found on his farm in 2007 and has since been documented on 50 properties across  Australia.

"Even though we've reduced [the weeds], it's not quickly eradicated," Mr  Constance said.

"We're trying very hard to look after our land and do things in an  environmentally friendly way … but we have to [grow] food."

A Monsanto Australia spokeswoman said herbicide resistance was one of the  greatest modern challenges facing farmers, and ''the threat of resistance to  glyphosate-based herbicides is real''


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