New varieties of genetically modified soy beans are being grown and tested in Essex County.

Monsanto, a well-known agricultural biotechnology company, is trying to develop a new strain of soy bean that is resistant to both Roundup and dicamba.

The farmer leasing his land to Monsanto said he can’t talk about the crop but confirms it’s already been harvested.

Monsanto hopes to have a new dicamba resistant variety of soy bean ready for 2014 or 2015.

Dicamba is a broad-spectrum herbicide used for general weed control on grain crops, pastures and non-crop areas.

Monsanto and farmers are pursuing new weed killers and genetically modified soy bean crops because the number of Roundup resistant weeds continues to increase in Canada.

Peter Sikkema, an associate professor of field crop weed management at the University of Guelph, said seven per cent of Ontario’s fields have some Roundup resistant weeds in them.

Of that seven per cent, 89 000 acres in Ontario are infested with the Roundup resistant giant ragweed. Another 180 000 acres are infested with resistant Canada fleabane.

New weed appears in Essex County

Paul Bénéteau is a soy bean farmer in River Canard. He just finished harvesting his soy crop and for the first time found a couple dozen Canada fleabane plants that had resisted to his glyphosate herbicide, or Roundup.

The cost to fight Canada fleabane is “huge,” Bénéteau said.

“You’re going to lose a lot of yield because they take a lot of nutrients out of the soil. It’s hell to combine. You’re going to beat up your machinery,” he said.

Steve Gleeson, a farmer in Tilbury, uses Roundup because “the herbicide is cheap to use, it’s efficient to the farmer,” he said.

“We can spray almost anytime and the Roundup would kill, we thought, all the weeds. We're finding our different now,” he said. "We're starting to find in the last two to three years weeds that are becoming resistant to Roundup. They've altered their genetic make-up I guess to fight off the Roundup.” 

“So we'll have to change our chemical program, our herbicide program. We'll have to change to different sprays, more expensive sprays and different timing of spraying.”

Sikkema said three new Roundup resistant weeds in the last six years have been found in Canada. All three can be found in Essex County.

"The reason why weeds become resistant to any herbicide is the repeated use of the same herbicide over time,” Sikkema said.

2,4 D making comeback

While Monsanto pursues dicamba resistant soy beans, Dow AgroSciences is developing soy beans resistant to 2,4 D.

Several activists have tried to liken 2,4 D to Agent Orange. Dow disagrees with the activists.

“The fact remains that the herbicide 2,4-D is available for use in U.S. crop production today because [the Environmental Protection Agency] has determined, after evaluating all human health and safety considerations – including the concerns expressed by activists – that current uses (including currently authorized uses on corn) pose ‘a reasonable certainty of no harm,’” Dow AgroSciences says on its website.

Sikkema said not only the chemicals used by farmers need to change, but also the way they use them.

“All of us, in retrospect, looking back, should have been more proactive in encouraging growers to use diverse weed management programs so this problem didn’t develop,” Sikkema said. “It’s a collective responsibility of everybody involved in agriculture production.”

Phil Bailey of SeCan, the largest selling brand of certified seed in Canada, said education is key.

“Making growers aware there is a resistance and making them aware of all the different tools available such as rotation, tank mixes,” he said. “And at the end of the day not spraying Roundup on their fields during every single application they do.”