I am always looking for opportunities to hear about what’s on peoples’ minds when it comes to agriculture and food.
It seems that the American public is always concerned about the use of natural or synthetic pesticides on farms and the role they play in modern agriculture to battle weeds, bugs, worms, fungi and rodents that threaten to destroy our crops. The herbicide glyphosate (Roundup®) in particular has recently received more attention on social media. I was recently asked if farmers need to make more applications of glyphosate today than they did 20 years ago.
Twenty years ago, no crops were sprayed with glyphosate because it would have destroyed them. However, through genetic engineering, six crops have been bred to be tolerant to glyphosate. Commercial production began with soybeans and canola in 1996, followed by cotton (1997), corn (1998), alfalfa (2005 litigated 2006-2010–deregulated again in January 2011) and sugarbeets (2008).
Sugarbeets have been grown here in the Red River Valley region of North Dakota since the 1920s. Prior to 2007, glyphosate was not used to spray on top of sugarbeets. Our growers had to use a combination of three to four herbicides that required four to five applications per growing season. We wanted and needed more effective herbicides that were safer for our family and the environment.
We started planting Roundup Ready® sugarbeets and using glyphosate in 2008. This has enabled us to make only two to three applications of glyphosate per growing season and we are now able to effectively control both weeds and grasses. We have identified at least 25 environmental benefits by switching to glyphosate, and our plants are stronger and healthier throughout the season.
For each application we use only 11 to 16 ounces of active glyphosate per acre. This amount is the same volume as a standard can of soda and it covers almost the size of a football field.
Glyphosate is very effective, so all growers have been able to eliminate cultivation which conserves water and reduces the incidences of sugarbeet diseases such as rhizoctonia.
However, the consumer public has been led to believe that they should fear glyphosate since last March when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified glyphosate as “2A, probably carcinogenic to humans.” This is despite the fact that glyphosate has been safely used around the world for over 40 years and has been approved by all major agriculture producing countries and every major regulatory agency.
The “2A, Probably Carcinogenic to Humans” classification assigned to glyphosate by the IARC is the same classification they gave to fruits including apples, grapefruit juice, coffee, cell phones and working the night shift. Glyphosate did not get classified in the category “1, Carcinogenic to Humans,” which means that it is not as hazardous to humans as alcoholic beverages, sunlight and oral contraceptives, just to name a few.
It is true that in recent years there has been a controversy against pesticides. However, pesticides have been used in agriculture for many years. Even the organic industry has 470 pesticide products available to them. Farmers do not use pesticides indiscriminately, just as needed to protect their crops. It is not cost effective to use them indiscriminately nor is it wise for the farmer to expose him or herself to excessive amounts of pesticides. Also, farmers are trained and certified in the correct use of pesticides.
As farmers, Roundup Ready® sugarbeets and glyphosate are the best, newest and safest tool we have in our farming operation, both to preserve the environment and our own safety. The use of Roundup Ready® sugarbeets and glyphosate gives us the ability to provide the consumer the safest, most high quality product, while maintaining the highest level of safety for our families and the environment. This is a win-win for both the consumer and grower.