Weed killer causes agriculture war

Alex Breitinger

Farmers are facing a superweed, and a super problem dealing with it.

The terror, known as pigweed, grows rapidly and produces more than 100,000 seeds, allowing it to spread like wildfire, sapping crops of much-needed sunlight, water and nutrients. Worse, pigweed has grown resistant to most common herbicides and often needs to be removed by hand, a time-consuming and expensive prospect for farmers who have hundreds or thousands of acres infested with the weed.

A soybean field off of Ky 425 choked with Pigweed Thursday. The broadleaf weed, which is resistant to herbicides, is becoming a big problem for area farmers, July 13, 2017.

Pigweed is susceptible to a chemical known as dicamba, but that herbicide is also deadly to crops in the field. In response, agribusinesses have produced new genetically modified crops that are dicamba-resistant, allowing farmers to plant soybeans and cotton that can survive dicamba sprayings.

However, neighboring fields are often not planted with dicamba-resistant crops and improper use of the chemical can result in a dead zone around sprayed fields, leading to heated arguments between neighbors. There have been over 1,000 complaints about dicamba misuse this year, and an argument between two Arkansas farmers over dicamba losses turned deadly in 2016. Increasing issues with the herbicide have resulted in a crackdown by states against the chemical.

Crop losses this year to weeds or dicamba are unknown, but the conflict between superweeds, herbicides and herbicide-resistant crops will continue to be an ongoing saga in modern agriculture for years to come.

Alex Breitinger, of Breitinger & Sons LLC, a commodity futures brokerage firm, can be reached at (800) 411-3888 or www.indianafutures.com.