RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Resistant Weeds Force Weed Killers to Get Aggressive

It’s harvest time here in mid-Missouri, and the Roundup-Ready, genetically altered soybeans are waiting for the combines. If, that is, the combines can find the soybeans, hidden as they are under masses of Roundup-Ready, genetically altered ragweed. Over the rivers and through the woods, gallop the herds of weeds that can’t be killed with Roundup, one of the most powerful herbicides on earth.

This is the reality for commodity producers in the Midwest. Back in 1996, Monsanto introduced the first soybeans that contained genes to make it resistant to Roundup, the Monsanto patented herbicide. They did this in the smartest way possible—partnering with Pioneer Seed, a company our granddaddy trusted. And they used the university extension dinners — free food served By the 4-H kids! — and said that the patented seeds would reduce erosion on the fields. Instead of tilling weeds under, a guy could drive a tank of Roundup across the field, spray the whole field, kill everything, and the soybean sprouts would pop up healthy and green.

It’s galling that the University Extension went along with the plan. Even if they were paid off, threatened with job loss, those agents should have expressed doubts. Because they knew, just like the farmers knew, that weeds find a way to resist.

The University of Missouri is the first public university west of the Mississippi River. It was Thomas Jefferson’s pride and joy and it received land-grant status in 1870. Extension departments, a service of the land-grants, were supposed to bring the science of top scholars out to the countryside to improve the lives of farmers.

But universities, like politicians, have become the servants of industry. And, rather than challenge industry and speak out, the scientists created a system where it’s nearly impossible to find seeds for the big five — canola, corn, cotton, soybeans and sugar beets — without the Frankenstein genes. And, this year, we can add alfalfa to that list of nearly 100% biotech plantings in American fields.

The story doesn’t end with the ratty-looking soybean fields of mid-Missouri, which, by the way, are planted with soybean plants so close together that you couldn’t till up the weeds if you wanted to. If there’s any increase in yields per acre, credit the density of the plants and not the productivity of the system. But now, with the weeds resistant to Roundup, Monsanto is looking for another way to kill them.

They’ve stumbled on 2,4D, and the “D” means “Dow.” 2,4D was half the blend that we knew as “Agent Orange” back in Vietnam days. Agent Orange is still killing veterans, and even changing the genetics of kids three generations later. The dioxin created when Agent Orange was made in Missouri resulted in the largest displacement of citizens and Superfund clean up of all — Times Beach, 17 miles southwest of St. Louis.

With such a terrible track record, it should be easy to discredit 2,4D and, in fact, the entire system, but money talks while truth walks. 2,4D crops are going through the EPA approval process right now. Look at the website for the Save Our Crops Coalition to see what you can do to stop it.

Just as the Roundup system went through no testing except to prove that the seeds did, indeed, resist Roundup, these new 2,4D seeds will not be tested for safety on humans or animals that might eat them. Besides the problem of resistant weeds, another interesting side effect is the problem of stalks of plants that are so tough they puncture tractor tires. And that same toughness is in every cell of the plant, including the cells that you eat or drink. Is it any wonder that everyone has indigestion these days? Better take this pill before you tuck into that taco and soft drink …

With so much poison in the air, it’s clear that industry’s final frontier is one that takes us — farmers, rural people, tourists — out of the picture. Just like the robot-run factories that produce cars and cameras, the farm of the future will be driven by computer geeks with joy sticks in front of screens that read out the GPS of the poison-proof machinery. The tests have been going on for years, with scientists determined to turn farming into another boring desk job. And, in fact, another land grant university is stepping in that direction.

In Iowa, Bruce Rastetter, a flak for AgriSol Energy, figured out that if he could get into the chair of the Iowa Board of Regents, he could push the agenda for mechanized farming into a new frontier. Not Iowa, but Tanzania. So, he tried to make a deal to lease 800,000 acres of Tanzanian land at 25 cents per acre for a massive land grab. So what if 160,000 people were living there? They were only refugees and subsistence farmers. Who could care?

He found out. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has called for his resignation. On their website (, read the rest of the story.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. She blogs at Email:

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2012

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