What Did Farmers Do Before Roundup?
According to the USDA, in 2009, 91% of soybeans acres planted in the U.S. were planted with seed genetically modified for herbicide tolerance, along with 68% of corn acres. The herbicide-tolerant trait is usually Monsanto’s Roundup Ready. Clearly, Roundup Ready traits are well-loved by U.S. farmers.
I’ve spent approximately 0% of my life on a farm so during my trip to Iowa for the USDA/DOJ workshop on possible anticompetitive business practices in agriculture, I felt a little undereducated on some basic facts, including, what did farmers do before they could spray their fields with Roundup?
Dairy farmer Paul Rozwadowski from Stanley, Wisconsin helped explain the world before Roundup Ready to me. Rozwadowski plants corn to feed to his dairy cows, and says since his main goal is not to maximize corn production, and he’s happy with the output of his acres, he uses conventional seed. So he controls weeds in the conventional way. He relies on the help of a local agronomist who specializes in weed control and is familiar with the particular qualities of the land in Stanley – the soil, rainfall, temperatures, etc. This professional will visit Rozwadowski’s fields and suggest combinations of herbicides and application methods specific to the particular weeds he finds, and the stage of growth of the corn plant.
When Rozwadowski’s neighbors use Roundup Ready seed, in contrast, they don’t need experts and they don’t need to worry about the type of weed (Roundup is a wide-ranging herbicide for broadleaf weeds) or their crop’s lifecycle. They just spray. This simplifies things.
Minnesota farmer Fred Dauer, who plants soy and corn, along with wheat, oats, alfalfa, peas and sweat corn, also lives without genetically modified seeds. He is also a seed dealer, and says his customers are aghast that he does not rely on Roundup Ready traits. He’s confident that after 34 years of farming he knows how to get the most out of his acres. He pays $130 a bag for seed, while Monsanto’s triple stack (three-trait) seed sells for $400 a bag. “I still get top bushels per acre with 1/4 the price for seed. But to other farmers, using non-GM seeds seems risky. The stacked traits are like insurance, even in a high-producing county like Redwood.”
Meanwhile, the weed-controlling agronomists better stick around. Rozwadowski points out his neighbors are having to increase the amount of Roundup spraying because one application is no longer enough to kill the weeds. It turns out that some common weeds are developing resistance to Roundup, including the dreaded giant ragweed.