The Trouble with Weed Resistance- Has the AgChemical Industry Hit a Wall in Herbicide TechnologyWed, 12 Apr 2017 15:45:46 CDT
Dr. Ian Burke, weed scientist and associate professor at Washington State University, presented this week before the Oklahoma Wheat Commission board of directors on a troubling issue that has growing concern surrounding it and no definite answers or solutions to speak of coming down the pipeline yet. Burke finds himself asking the same question as many in the agri-chemical industry. Will we have enough tools available in the future to combat weeds in our wheat fields, while at the same time, staving off resistance. Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays was there to get Burke’s take on the problem wheat farmers and agri-chemical companies are faced with. You can listen to their entire conversation about the advancements, or lack thereof, in herbicide technology, by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of this story.
“What’s happened is while we see new herbicides coming into the market, the number of herbicides has really slowed to a trickle on our national basis,” Burke informed. “Where we might have seen ten products a year in the 1980s, we’re really very rarely seeing more than two a year and often, some years none.”
Burke explains that because of the nature of the US wheat market, where it is segmented into three separate production regions, each of which with its own unique constraints and weed species; it is difficult for chemical companies to develop a “one-size fits all” product. But he says since the development of the formulas available today, there has been little break throughs in herbicide technology. He continues that the active ingredients included in many products today are shared between brands and formulations.
“There’s a real emphasis now among the agri-chemical industry to try to find that new mode of action and I think that’s largely due to an interest claiming that new discovery more than anything,” Burke commented. “But no one has yet found a new mode of action really since the introduction of HPPD inhibitors in the late 1980s.
“It’s sort of astonishing to think about us relying on the same herbicide mode of action for as long as we have now and potentially for the foreseeable future, because we know herbicide resistance is a growing problem - it’s not going away.”
Part of the problem though, lies in the economics of innovation. For example, the herbicide 2 4-D has been a very effective tool for wheat producers. It is cheap, effective and easy to use. If this product were taken off the market though, it would have to be replaced. At the moment, Burke insists that chemical companies cannot afford to do this and have nothing on the horizon to replace it with, even if they wanted.
Instead of being reliant on chemicals though, Burke suggests taking into consideration, using other strategies and tools outside the chemical realm to manage weeds, such as crop rotation. He says these tools do exist but are often neglected because they are more labor intensive, require skill and sometimes more costly.
“Anything we can do to find alternatives to wheat that allows us to employ tools that are truly effective on the weeds we’re trying to manage is all part of a solution,” he remarked. “Those often take a lot longer to find than a new herbicide, unfortunately.”
Burke says that for now, there is little outside of a jug that will solve weed control issues, but assures he is cautiously optimistic for what the future holds.
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