Without Herbicides, Food Itself Would Be Impossible*

Or at least about half of corn and soybeans would be impossible



The Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) has just calculated what would happen to crop yields if herbicides were banned. The short answer: hunger and higher food prices. The WSSA's Weed Loss Committee focused its analysis on corn and soybeans given the importance of those crops in North America. The U.S. ranks number 1 in the world for both corn and soybean production. Both crops are grown about 170 million acres in the U.S. and Canada.

A question for non-farmers: Before herbicides how did farmers control weeds? Plowing aims to bury weeds and weed seeds deeply enough to prevent weed growth and weed seed germination. However, once the crops are in the field, the ancient way to control weeds was arduous hand-hoeing. This kind of old-fashioned backbreaking weed control was one of the reasons that 38 percent of Americans worked on farms in 1900. Farm sizes in those days average only abour 147 acres.

Without modern herbicides, the WSSA study estimated an average yield loss of 52 percent in corn and 49.5 percent in soybean crops amounting to a loss of $43 billion annually in the U.S. and Canada. Delta Farm Press editor Forrest Laws muses if the WSSA study might serve as a "reality check" for non-farmers? "With 98 percent of the population living off the farm, many in this country seem to think if you do away with pesticides and stop planting GMO crops the grocery store shelves would continue to be filled in some miraculous way," writes Laws.

Surely most non-farmers don't think that way, right?

*Adapted from Monsanto's wonderful 1977 anti-chemophobia advertising campaign.

Disclosure: I grew up on a dairy farm in southwestern Virginia near Saltville.