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crops_1101What is profitable.  What is right.

Two categories that, if drawing a Venn Diagram, seem to overlap less and less these days: case in point the manufacture and use of genetically modified seeds produced by the Monsanto corporation.  Back in 1990 the so called ’round-up ready’ crops came into being, with a high initial investment but then a wonderful rate of return due to less upkeep, the prevalence of round up ready crops sky-rocketed.  Food production and profit for farmers and agribusiness increased, everyone wins right?

For awhile the answer was a qualified “yes”.

Our superweed agricultural situation shares an analog with the problems we are having with antibiotics.  Strains of bacteria are becoming resistant to the drugs we routinely use to clear up infections and save lives.  The problem?  Evolution.

Our Creationist friends will be horrified to learn that, through the process of evolution (which they deny), we are creating new strains of bacteria that are immune to traditional antibiotic treatments.   That’s why the doctor always says when prescribing antibiotics, to finish the whole batch and take the whole dose.  Not taking the full course or right dose leads to killing *most* of the bacteria and leaving the semi-drug resistant bacteria intact to continue to multiply.   Bad for us.

The very same is happening in the agricultural sector as weeds have evolved glyphosate (the active ingredient in Round Up herbicide) resistance and are making comeback in the farm fields of today.  Here is where the ‘what is profitable and what is good’ for us cleavage comes to bite us in the ass.

The growth of [glyphosate] resistance was accelerated by a trio of factors:

  • Monoculture. Growing the same crop on the same land year after year helps weeds to flourish.

  • Overreliance on a single herbicide. When farmers use Roundup exclusively, resistance develops more quickly.

  • Neglect of other weed control measures.The convenience of the Roundup Ready system encouraged farmers to abandon a range of practices that had been part of their weed control strategy.This “perfect storm” of accelerating factors has quickly turned the Roundup resistance problem into a superweed crisis. And because many farmers can no longer rely on glyphosate alone, overall herbicide use in the United States—which Roundup was supposed to help reduce—has instead gone up (see graph at right).”

Whoops.   It would seem that despite the fact that we know evolution occurs in all living organisms we adopt practices that run counter-current to our established body of knowledge.  The appearance of drug resistant bacteria and herbicide resistant weeds should not be a surprise to anyone given what we know about how evolution works.

Unfortunately, adherence to scientific(ethical, moral, ecological etc). principle goes out the window once profitability, specifically short-term profitability, comes into play.  The pundits that say the market leads to a rational allocation and distribution of resources are full of high grade manure because it doesn’t.   The market prioritizes short term gain and externalizes the long term deleterious consequences – profitably digging our own grave, so to speak.

There is hope though, here is what we can do:

“There’s a better way. Farmers can control weeds using practices grounded in the science of agroecology, including crop rotation, cover crops, judicious tillage, the use of manure and compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, and taking advantage of the weed-suppressing chemicals that some crops produce.

Such practices have benefits beyond weed control: they increase soil fertility and water-holding capacity, reduce water pollution and global warming emissions, and make the farm and its surroundings more welcoming to pollinators and other beneficial organisms.

In short, agroecological practices make the farm healthier. And recent research shows that they work.”

Happy ending possible?  Maybe.  Let’s just hope it is profitable…



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