Today, media attention frequently focuses on antibiotic resistant bacteria. The development of fearsome new “superbugs” poses a significant infection control problem in many excellent medical facilities. Recently, agronomists discovered that some weeds also possess the power to mutate and thwart chemical control measures.

A Longstanding Battle

Of course, ever since the invention of agriculture thousands of years ago human beings have struggled to promote the growth of certain plants. For centuries, farmers followed common wisdom that suggested leaving certain farming locations fallow and unused for periods of time to restore the soil. The rested field could produce more abundant crops later. Before the World War II era rural folk sometimes inverted soil between crops and encouraged corn stalks to return to the earth.

Farmers during these early periods engaged in vigorous manual labor, pulling unwanted weeds in fields. Tilling and caring for the soil required extensive physical effort. Then during the innovative post-World War II era, just as the liberal use of antibiotics gained wider acceptance in medical circles as a reliable way to control microbes, agricultural scientists began promoting the generous use of herbicides to destroy weeds (and insect pests, too). The vigorous Pest Control in Aberdeen chemical manufacturing industry developed to support farmers control the bug and insect problem with pesticides. Additionally, the power of tillage increased significantly as a new generation of powerful rotary tillers offered the ability to disrupt weed growth more effectively during cultivation.

A Bad Moon Rising

Unfortunately, during recent decades, medical experts discovered that some pathogens possess an amazing power to mutate and develop sophisticated defense mechanisms against antibiotics. Agronomists learned that unappreciated natural transformational abilities extend to many humble weeds, as well. Neither powerful herbicides nor enhanced tillage have yet succeeded in eliminating some of the hardiest strains of weeds. Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest applies even to species residing within largely human-controlled environments.

In fact, many farmers heeded warnings from soil experts that excessive tillage had squandered valuable topsoil nutrients. As a result, agricultural enterprises sometimes till less than during previous eras, exposing their crops to competition from some robust species of weeds. The Conservation Security Program and the Conservation Reserve Program offered resources to farmers willing to remove their fields from production in exchange for payments, a wetlands-promoting process some traditional agronomists fear simply contributes to widespread weed growth.

Where Did All The Good Genes Go?

An additional complication involves the development of tillage resistant weeds following the wider use of genetic modification using glyphosate, a non-selective systemic herbicide deadly to most plants. Although some agricultural experts hoped that the use of glyphosate would decrease the need for tillage to control weeds, instead some weed species simply developed agile seeds capable of germinating close to the surface or in sunlight.

The wily weeds adjusted to both tillage and glyphosate. Today 197 weed species resist herbicides according to botanists, and experts believe that nearly 66 of those varieties grow in the USA currently.

Brave New World

How do traditional agronomists intend to control this potential farming catastrophe? Some urge more rotary tillage and the wholesale eradication of entire weed species. Hopefully, plants classified as useful to humans will survive their cure.