They call them Superweeds choking whole fields of crops resistant to the very chemical that was supposed to kill them. Glyphosate or Roundup-ready crops have been Game Changers over the last few decades propelling Agriculture forward. But now herbicide resistant weeds are changing the game again. Across the U.S., an estimated 11 million acres of crops are infested with Superweeds and they're showing up in Ontario.
(Photo credit: AP Photo/University of Arkansas)
Part Three of The Current
Superweeds - Bill Johnson
If you listen to the names ... Waterhemp ... pigweed ... horseweed ... lamb's quarter ... velvet weed ... they sound rustic, even pastoral . But they're the stuff of agri-chemical nightmare. They make a tangled garden of choking plants that harried farmers in the United States call -- superweeds. We aired a clip with some news reports on the rise of superweeds, a problem in the U.S. South and Midwest.
And farmers in Canada are beginning to reap these dark harvests as well. They're called superweeds because they're resistant to one of the most indispensable herbicides ... Roundup. The active ingredient - glyphosate - has been a game-changing chemical for farmers, and Roundup and Roundup Ready crops have revolutionized agriculture.
Roundup Ready crops such as soybeans, corn, canola and cotton have been genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate, and that has allowed farmers to control weeds in an easy, cost-effective way while increasing crop yields. But some troublesome weeds are also shrugging off glyphosate now. They can hog sunlight, moisture and nutrients.
By one estimate, controlling Roundup-resistant weeds will cost U.S. farmers nearly a billion dollars a year by 2015 and the loss in crop yield is already adding up to thousands of dollars for individual farmers. Roundup-resistant giant ragweed is now a problem in Southwestern Ontario. Philip Shaw is a farmer and agricultural economist near Dresden, Ontario. He gave CBC producer Nathan Swinn a slideshow of his giant ragweed problem.
For more on the rise of superweeds, we were joined by Bill Johnson, a weed scientist at the College of Agriculture at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is one of the leading experts on herbicide resistance in North America.
Superweeds - Trish Jordan
Trish Jordan has been listening in this morning. She's the Director of Public and Industry Affairs at Monsanto Canada. Roundup and Roundup ready plants are Monsanto products. We reached her at her home in Winnipeg.
Last Word - In Day of the Triffids
We've been talking about superweeds, plants that are extremely difficult to kill and end up reducing crop yields. A popular novel from the 1950's suggested the plants might eventually turn on us. In Day of the Triffids, Russian scientists are suspected of genetically manipulating weeds.
The plants do more than choke crops. This Green Menace stalks humans, sprays them with poison and uses them for fertilizer. The rampage is easier because of a worldwide plague, also suspected to be a result of Communist intrigue.
If we haven't given away too much of the story, well, here's what's left. Today's Last Word goes to the 1962 film version of plants gone wild in a very literal Commie plot.
Other segments from today's show: