I read with interest this week my colleague, DTN’s Pam Smith article, “Weed Whackers, Walking Beans Makes a Comeback”. In the piece Pam describes how some Illinois farmers and others are hiring crews to walk their soybean fields and “hoe the beans” like I do almost every year. Just last week I was in my fields hoeing out lambsquarters that for whatever reason didn’t die. My fields of non-gmo soybeans are not weed free. Needless to say it’s a challenge to keep them reasonably clean.
The unfortunate part of my battle with weeds is Roundup is only a small part of it at burn down before planting. Its there where I have to combat two different glyphosate resistant weeds, Canada Fleabane and Giant Ragweed before I release those fields to mother nature. If I don’t catch those weeds on burn down, they’ll take over by July/August. It’s always a battle, not always one I win.
The good thing is I don’t have Waterhemp like Pam Smith described in Illinois, which now has the ability to resist five different herbicide families (glyphosate, HPPD-inhibitors, PPO-inhibitors, PS II-inhibitors, ALS-inhibitors). She also mentioned Waterhemp has also shown the ability to resist Group 4 herbicides (2,4-D) in Nebraska, with official confirmation pending in Missouri and Illinois. In terms of super weeds, those have to take the cake. How are soybean producers to move ahead with such enemies showing up in the fields? It’s just another tall order, but I never expected it to be 10 feet tall.
Luckily in Ontario, we don’t have that list of weed problems as of yet. However, we’ve got enough and I’m sure there are many corporate business types that will say that’s why we need dicamba resistant soybeans. Over my career I’ve found my weed spectrum constantly changes. However, weeds that come along with TUAs make everything so much more difficult. We need new technological innovation to take these new super weeds down.
Hope might have come last week when Monsanto backed away in their takeover bid from Syngenta. In other words, we should have less “restricted choice” more competition and less market concentration for our farm chemistries and seeds. I don’t look at this in any sinister anti GMO stance. To me it’s simply about economic business structure. Oligopolies within our agricultural industry limit our choices, but monopolies are much, much worse. Think about the price of corn if you looked out the farm door and saw only one buyer. He’d be dictating your whole life.
It is difficult for me to imagine the road ahead not only for the big agricultural companies I mentioned above, but the super weeds of the future. For instance I’m old enough to remember Monsanto when they were a very minor player in the agricultural arena. When Roundup first came out, it was $50/acre and we applied it with a teaspoon. Ditto with others who had their day and now are minor players. Change is our only constant in agriculture, but as time moves on, it seems to be increasing exponentially.
The weed nightmares called Palmer Amaranth and Waterhemp continue to move north. I’ve even heard Palmer Amaranth is in Ontario, but nothing official yet. So does that mean, my old elementary and high school summer job of “hoeing beans” will return with a vengeance? At a certain point “technology” might not be able to combat these yield robbing weeds. Mechanical methods may come back into vogue. Imagine programming a UAV with laser technology to fly over a field shooting weeds out of the field. Don’t say it won’t happen. I’ve been writing this column for almost 30 years and change is our lifeblood.
“Hoeing soybeans” or “Walking beans” is surely a foreign concept to many farmers today. However, all one has to do is look across the road in many areas and you’ll see off shore workers hoeing a tomato field or picking the many types of vegetables that get picked by hand. We do what we have to do in this business to make it work. The challenging part is always to find those workers who might do those jobs.
So we move forward. The off again on again marriage of Syngenta and Monsanto seems off for now, but surely will be re-visited in the future. History might also pass them by, with a new player emerging down the road. When it comes, I’m hoping it adds great value for farmers. I don’t want to walk those fields like I once did, in fact, as time goes by; you know the rest of the story. However, that UAV with weed killing lasers, I could get into that.