Editor’s note: Graham Scoles is a plant scientist at the University of Saskatchewan
While engaging in an online debate around genetically modified organisms, I realized that few non-farmers understood the issues farmers have dealing with weeds.
Many people are ready to condemn herbicide-resistant crops and the application of herbicides and seem to see this as a frivolous activity by farmers.
I suggested they not do any weed control in their garden and wait until the end of the season to observe the results.
Unlike natural ecosystems, in which plants come into a balance with other plants, fungi, insects and animals, cropping systems are an unnatural system. They are continuously threatened by the evolutionary tactics of weeds, diseases and insects, which reduce yield and/or quality.
Weed control will always be with us in large-scale agriculture, most critically before the weeds draw on soil nutrients or water needed by the crop. Our use of herbicides has much improved since they were first used in the 1940s and will continue to improve as new technologies come along. Hopefully, with greater understanding through genomic technologies of our crops and weeds, more elegant solutions will come along.
At present, herbicide-resistant crops through genetic modification provide an elegant solution to the seed bank problem and offer the best means we currently have to control weeds in large-scale agriculture.
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