GMOs and Herbicides: it’s complicated

Herbicide use patterns in the US have changed a lot over the last 25 years. Depending on who you talk to, those changes are either proof that modern American agriculture will feed the world with fewer inputs, or proof that the US agricultural system is irreparably broken. There seems to be no middle ground in this discussion. Herbicide use is especially controversial when discussed in the context of genetically engineered crops (often called GMOs, for genetically modified organisms). The most …

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Could GMO corn be responsible for increasing childrens’ IQ?

This is a follow-up to my last post on the recent New York Times article written by Danny Hakim. A small but very important section of the NYT article has been bothering me ever since I read it, but it took me a while to find the time to actually find the data to explain why it bothered me. In my last post, I mostly looked at herbicide use; I’m a weed scientist so I already had that data downloaded and analyzed. …

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The tiresome discussion of initial GMO expectations

A new article in the New York Times has questioned the benefits associated with genetically engineered crops (which I’ll call GMOs for brevity). The response to the article has been pretty predictable; folks who don’t like GMOs are circulating it to say “I told you so.” And ag-twitter has exploded with claims that the New York Times is biased against the technology. The article makes some reasonable points that GMO crops are not a ‘silver bullet’ cure all technology. But almost any …

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New study confirms herbicide use changed after adoption of GMO corn and soybean 

But, once again, we are left to wonder whether that’s good or bad.  A new paper was just published in the journal Science Advances that analyzes pesticide use data for farmers in the U.S. between 1998 and 2011. The authors (Edward Perry et al.) are currently agricultural economists at four different universities (Kansas State, Virginia, Michigan State, and Iowa State). Their goal was to determine if pesticide use differed between farmers using GMO varieties and farmers who did not use GMO varieties. Overall, …

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How much yield is enough?

Last week, two colleagues and I published a paper in PLOS ONE titled “Commercial crop yields reveal strengths and weaknesses for organic agriculture in the United States.” The article presents an analysis of USDA crop yield data to compare organic and conventional farms in the US. We were pretty careful in the paper not to overstate our conclusions, since our goal was simply to see where organic yields were competitive (or not) with conventional crop yields. I explain more about …

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Spraying a herbicide study (video)

I took this video a couple weeks ago with a GoPro attached to our small-plot research sprayer. I thought I’d post it here in case anyone was interested in how we apply herbicides for our research. We also use a lot of hand equipment, but this rig works great for our larger studies (4 acres in this particular trial). A commercial rig could cover 4 acres in just a few minutes, but it took us about 6 hours to do …

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As consumers shift to non-GMO sugar, farmers may be forced to abandon environmental and social gains

Dan Charles at NPR has recently done two interesting pieces about sugar production. In the first, he uses sugar as a proxy to look at the environmental costs and trade-offs of growing food in different places. It makes for an interesting comparison because there are two completely different crops (sugarcane and sugarbeet) that can be grown to produce the exact same product, refined sugar. The two crops have very different climatic needs, pest management requirements, and growing seasons. It is an …

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What does a GMO label tell you about herbicide use?

There has been quite a bit of discussion lately about various food companies deciding to label their products for GMO content in response to Vermont’s GMO labeling bill. I’m still mostly indifferent to GMO labels, and frankly, have grown tired of this particular debate. But there seems to be at least one misconception that I wanted to briefly address. If you follow the GMO issue at all, you’re probably aware that a large majority of GMO crops currently being grown are herbicide …

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Everything in Agriculture is a Trade-Off

The idea of trade-offs is familiar to everyone. None of us have unlimited money, time, or energy. We make decisions every single day about how to spend our money, our time, and our energy. Do I buy the red shirt or the blue shirt? Do I watch the football game or go to the concert? Should I ride my bike to work or hope I can find a good parking place? Do I call a plumber or try and fix the sink myself? Do …

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Herbicide Diversity Trends in US Crops, 1990-2014

There are two things that I think just about every weed scientist can agree on: herbicide resistant weeds make weed management more difficult; and the key to battling herbicide resistant weeds (or any weeds, really) is to use a diverse weed management program. One aspect of a diverse weed management program is herbicide diversity. The quickest way to select for herbicide resistant weeds is to use the same herbicide over and over again. I’ve expressed heavy skepticism in the past …

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