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Book of the Week: Weeds — Control without Poisons by Charles Walters

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Acres U.S.A. original book, Weeds — Control without Poisons, written by Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters. Copyright 1999. #4005. Softcover. 352 pages. $25.00 regularly priced.

By Charles Walters

Andre Voisin, the great French farmer and scientist who wrote Soil, Grass and Cancer and Grass Productivity, once declared that most of what he knew came not from the university, but from observing his cows at grass. And so it is with much of what we know about weeds. Walking the fields with the late C.J. Fenzau in areas as separate as Indiana, Iowa and Idaho, I was able to take note of what weeds were trying to tell us during the early days of the Acres U.S.A. publication. Admittedly, this knowledge has been fleshed out since then. And recent findings build on, rather than tear down, those field observations.

Weeds – Control without Poisons

Weeds are an index of what is wrong — and sometimes what is right — with the soil, or at least with the fertility program. In every field on every farm, there are different soil types, and each has a potential for producing certain weeds, depending on how a farmer works the soil. Fall tillage, spring tillage, tillage early or late, if it takes place when the soil is dry or wet, all these things determine the kinds of weeds that will grow that season. As far back as the Dust Bowl days, it became transparently obvious to my Dad — after viewing rainbelt territory near Conway, Missouri — that dryland weeds generally don’t grow in territory that has rain pelting the soil with a steady squall. Thus the pres­ence of salt grass, iron weed, tumbleweed and all the wild sages in soils where flocculation is gone, and wind wafts dust skyward. There are soil conditions that almost always have restricted amounts of water, and consequently they do not require and cannot grow weeds that thrive when there is plenty of water. Continue Reading →

Interview: Chemical Crutch — Examining the Industrial Agriculture Cycle of Dependence from a Whole-Systems Approach

David Mortensen Interview

David Mortensen, Ph.D.

David Mortensen, Ph.D. interviewed by: Chris Walters


David Mortensen, Ph.D., is a professor of weed ecology at Penn State. Back in early 2012 he led a team of co-authors who produced a paper called “Navigating a Critical Juncture in Sustainable Weed Management.” The equivalent of an agricultural bombshell, it delivered unhappy news about the consequences of engineering crops to withstand more than one pesticide. Noting the remarkable ability of weeds to evolve resistance strategies, Mortensen and his co-authors predicted ecological disaster if crops engineered to permit the return of 2,4-D and dicamba are put into circulation. The article’s predictions of exponentially rising auxinic herbicide use were shocking until it emerged that the USDA’s estimates were even higher. Over two years later, as biotechnology’s latest assault draws closer to final regulatory approval or refusal, it seemed like a good idea to check in with Mortensen. Author of dozens of research papers, he is a veteran of decades working in fields alongside farmers in Iowa, Maryland, and many states in between.

ACRES U.S.A. What is the crux of the issue here?

DAVID MORTENSEN. This new technology that’s going to “save” herbicide- resistant crops — that is, the new stacked-trait herbicide-resistant crops — in my view is going in exactly the wrong direction. It’s going in the wrong direction for a number of reasons, not least of which is that if we adopt them we are going to double or triple herbicide use on our major commodity crops, corn and soybean, with significant increases in use on cotton. We tried to be conservative and careful in our Critical Juncture paper with that estimate of doubling and tripling herbicide use. We spent months debating that amongst the co-authors. Thus it’s intriguing for me to read in the USDA’s own assessment that we will increase use of auxinic herbicides four to seven-fold if we approve these new crops, as the USDA seems to be leaning toward doing. I find it bordering on maddening to think that’s an acceptable trajectory to put ourselves on. It goes against everything I’ve worked on for the past 30 years. Continue Reading →