The spread of pesticide resistant weeds across the South and Midwest is spurring a debate about the appropriate use of chemicals that threatens to divide the farm community.
The weed in question is Amaranthus palmeri, better known as pigweed. A common plant species throughout the southern half of North America, the plant has developed a resistance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. Herbicide resistant Amaranthus palmeri, while originally dominant in Southern cotton fields, has begun spreading to other crops and other regions. In 2006 it was spotted moving increasingly northward in Illinois.
Part of the cause of Amaranthus palmeri’s resistance is, ironically, the use (or overuse, as some environmentalists would say) of herbicides like Roundup. Widespread use killed non-resistant pigweed, leaving an optimal environment for its resistance strain to expand. In addition, the creation of Roundup resistance plants and seeds may have helped spur the development of Roundup resistance in pigweed.
The response to the spread of this plant has been mixed. Some famers are redoubling their efforts to remove pigweed by hand, the most effective method of dealing with it. Others, however, have placed their hopes on Dow Chemical, which is developing a strain of crops resistant to an older, more toxic herbicide known as 2,4-D. This move has been controversial due to potential health risks. 2,4-D has been linked to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers. In addition, the herbicide was a major component of the controversial Vietnam War defoliant known as Agent Orange.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer