Modern agriculture like farming in a fishbowl

The nincompoops crawled out of the woodwork recently after USDA approved a new technology which conveys resistance to 2,4-D and glyphosate herbicides in corn and soybeans.

Those who believe the world would be better off without chemicals and biotechnology reacted predictably in blogs, articles and news releases with a mix of misinformation and outright deceit, many jumping on the unfortunate connection between 2,4-D and Agent Orange, the herbicide used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

The association is hardly fair since Agent Orange was actually a mix of two herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, with only the latter, 2,4,5-T, associated with negative impacts on health. According to studies by the National Pesticide Information Center, 2,4-D has not been implicated in any relationships between pesticide exposure and subsequent disease.

Still, even a New York Times reporter thought he’d mention the Agent Orange connection, which sent anti-pesticide and anti-GMO groups and the organic kingdom into fact-bending nirvana. A news release in my inbox after the technology approval began with this ominous message, “Would you still love your popcorn if it was topped off with a dash of Agent Orange?” Some websites have called the technology “Agent Orange resistant corn.”

Fortunately, science knows better, as does USDA, EPA and farmers. I would hope that most rational people will also come to understand that this technology, and others on the way, will help farmers do a better job of weed control and resistance management.

On the other hand, new technologies will not take us back to the good old days when weeds were controlled easily, cheaply and quickly with glyphosate. In fact, we’re entering a new paradigm, where technology placement in fields and managing drift will be among top priorities of weed control programs. And this is where we need to be vigilant. You can bet your bottom dollar that once this technology hits the farm, there will be plenty of eyes and ears ready and willing to start a clamor if something goes wrong.

Today, we farm in a fishbowl.

This means farmers must communicate with each other prior to planting crops each spring. They must make sure fields are clearly marked, use appropriate nozzles to minimize drift and avoid tank contamination.

While biotechnology and chemical companies will either recommend or require that producers follow best management practices to properly steward these new weed control technologies, producers should probably take it upon themselves to consider any BMP as a requirement.

There are people out there who can’t wait for something to go wrong.

 

 

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