Saturday, May 8, 2010

Roundup Resistant Weeds ATTACK!

I was reading coverage in the NY times about how Roundup resistant weeds are proliferating. This is similar in cause and effect to overuse of antibiotics accelerating development of resistant bacteria. I believe this is once again an example of the shortsightedness on the part of the farming industry, but logical in a competitive market.

Once again I have to go back to natural capitalism for some startling statistics, and information about the state of our farming industry. Our farming methodologies are inefficient with regards to energy consumption:

American farms have doubled their direct and indirect energy efficiency since 1978. They use more efficiently manufactured fertilizer, diesel engines, bigger and multifunction farm machinery, better drying and irrigation processes and controls, and herbicides instead of plowing to control weeds. 

And also even more worrisome is that we are destroying the genetic diversity of our crop species:

Clear-cutting at the microscopic level of DNA may be creating the gravest problem of all. The world's farming rests on an extraordinarily narrow genetic base. Of the 200,000 species of wild plants, notes biogeographer Jared Diamond, "only a few thousands are eaten by humans, and just a few hundred of those have been more or less domesticated." Three-quarters of the world's food comes from only seven crop species, wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, barley, cassava (manioc), and sorghum.

Not only are we reducing genetic diversity, but also our "single crop mindset" is creating fertile breeding grounds for prime predators, and a disaster waiting to happen:

The single-crop mentality both ignores nature's tendency to foster diversity and worsens the ancient battle against pests. Monocultures are rare in nature, in part because they create paradises for plant diseases and insects, as science writer Janine Benyus puts it, they are like equipping a burglar with the keys to every house in the neighborhood; they're an all-you-can-eat restaurant for pests. Disease already damages or destroys 13 percent of the world's crops, insects 15 percent, and weeds 12 percent; in all, two-fifths of the world's harvest is lost in the fields, and after some more spoils, nearly half never reaches a human mouth.

Hopefully we can be ahead of the curve on this one, before disaster strikes
Another example. Recent New Scientist coverage of a Nature article about new pests evolving to attack Genetically modified crops:
The rise of mirids has driven Chinese farmers back to pesticides - they are currently using about two-thirds as much as they did before Bt cotton was introduced. As mirids develop resistance to the pesticides, Wu expects that farmers will soon spray as much as they ever did.

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