In 2013 the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report on The Rise of Superweeds. “Superweeds are all too real, and they have now spread to over 60 million acres of our farmland, wreaking environmental and economic havoc wherever they go,” the report announced.
As farmers increased their use of GMO Roundup Ready seeds, genes for glyphosate resistance began to spread in weed populations. This problem led to the invention of new generation of herbicide-resistant crops engineered to tolerate older herbicides, such as 2,4-D and dicamba, in addition to glyphosate.
“Increased herbicides use on the new engineered crops will speed up weed resistance, leaving no viable herbicide alternatives,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist with the UCS Food & Environment. “This is a dangerous chemical cocktail, that when combined with the current farming systems, is a recipe for disaster.”
“It is a crisis situation,” Neil Harker, weed ecologist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, told NBC. “We’re losing the effectiveness of herbicide tools against weeds going forward.”
By 2014, Dow Chemical reported the infestation of superweeds had more than doubled since 2009, with an estimated 70 million acres of U.S. farmland infested with pesticide-tolerant weeds that cost roughly $1 billion in damages to crops so far.
By 2016 the situation was compounded when, in an attempt to produce more habitats for bees and wildlife, the federal government inadvertently planted “super weeds” across the Midwest, potentially threatening tens of thousands of acres of farmland. The federal government had contracted the work through a private company, accidentally mixed in weed seeds with native grass and flower seeds, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
The seeds include palmer amaranth, “one of the most prolific and devastating weeds in the country for corn, soybeans and other row crops,” the Star Tribune reported. A single female palmer amaranth plant produces more than 250,000 seeds, grows to a height of 6-8 feet and has a woody stem thick enough to damage combine cutter bars and other farm equipment that try to mow it down.
A new study published by the University of Illinois Plant Clinic shows that glyphosate herbicide resistance and PPO Inhibitor herbicide resistance have both reached epic proportions across the Midwest.
2,000 waterhemp or palmer amaranth weed samples were received by the Plant Clinic from 10 states across the Midwest, with 456 of the 593 field sites sampled showing glyphosate resistance – that’s 76.8% of samples.
The report has allegedly led some Midwest farmers to question the validity of using glyphosate resistant Roundup Ready GMO crops. Bill Giles, a farmer from Illinois, who has been growing GM crops since 2009, told Sustainable Pulse that many farmers in his local region are thinking of turning back to non-GMO crops to survive the superweed crisis.