If you’re in the agricultural business, chances are that you’re well aware of one of the major debates raging on between farmers, seed companies, and agricultural researchers – the debate about “Roundup Ready” crops.
“Roundup Ready” crops can refer to any number of crops that have been genetically engineered to resist glyphosate – the primary active ingredient in Monsanto’s “Roundup” weedkiller that is used in both commercial farming and residential landscaping applications.
These crops are able to withstand the damaging effects of glyphosate – and weeds growing alongside them in the fields are not. According to Monsanto, this leads to an increased ability for crops to compete with weeds, and a healthier overall crop.
However, there are many concerns and criticisms regarding Roundup Ready crops. In order to give you the information you need to form your own opinion, we’ll look at the history of these crops, the benefits they offer, and some of the most common arguments against these genetically-modified crops.
The History Of Roundup Ready Crops
The weed-killing attributes of glyphosate were discovered by chemist John E. Franz at Monsanto in 1970, and Roundup was commercially developed from his discoveries. The first Roundup branded products were released in 1974.
Glyphosate grew over time into one of the most popular herbicides on earth – used to kill everything from common weeds to grasses, woody plants, and broad-leafed trees. Its usage in the agricultural field grew dramatically since the introduction of the first genetically-modified “Roundup Ready” soybeans in 1996.
Soybeans were quickly followed by crops like corn, canola, sorghum, cotton, alfalfa, and others. Roundup Ready wheat is the most recently developed modified strain, though it has not been released to the public.
Another factor that increased the usage of glyphosate – and Roundup Ready crops – was the 2000 expiration of Monsanto’s patent on glyphosate. Now, hundreds of companies create, market, and distribute their own versions of glyphosate-based weedkillers – and by 2007, glyphosate was the #1 most-used herbicide in the agricultural sector, with 180-185 million tons of herbicides applied throughout the year.
The Benefits Of Roundup Ready Crops
Monsanto claims a number of benefits to Roundup Transorb Ready crops. Here is a quick overview of the benefits that Monsanto lists for the use of glyphosate-resistant genetically-modified crops.
- Allows crops to grow without the threat of weeds – Fields that are overgrown with weeds are not as conducive to crop growth, as the weeds compete with crops for sunlight, water, and nutrients. Elimination of these weeds allows for a healthier, larger crop harvest.
- Spurred adoption of conservation tillage – Conservation tillage allows farmers to avoid tilling fields and removing residue and debris from the previous year of crops. Because glyphosate-resistant crops are sterile and won’t regrow, and because any weeds that may regrow will be killed by next year’s application of Roundup, farmers can avoid over-tilling their fields.
- Decreased erosion in fields – Conservation tillage allows for less disturbance of soil, eliminating soil erosion problems.
While these are certainly not the only benefits to be gained from using Roundup Ready crops, they’re the most commonly cited by Monsanto, and farmers who prefer using these genetically-modified crops.
Criticism Of Roundup Ready Crops
Over the past two decades, there have been some very harsh criticisms leveled at Monsanto, and at Roundup Ready crops. Let’s take a look at some of these arguments now.
- Roundup Ready crops encourage seed monopolization – One of the primary criticisms of Monsanto Roundup Ready crops has to do with their sterilization. Roundup Ready crops are “terminator” seeds. When planted, they can grow only once – the seeds that are grown from their crops are sterile, and cannot be replanted. Critics say this encourages monopolization of seeds by agricultural giants like Monsanto, and makes it harder for farmers to reuse seed, and replant higher-quality seed to increase crop yields.
- Weeds don’t have a major impact on harvest size or quality – There is quite a bit of research indicating that weeds don’t actually have a major impact on the harvest size or quality of crops planted by farmers. This would mean that, essentially, Roundup Ready crops exist only to serve Monsanto. Farmers have to buy new GMO seeds every year, and also pay for Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, leading to greater profits for Monsanto – but not for farmers.
- Roundup Ready crops could cause herbicide resistance in weeds – The preponderance of glyphosate used in agriculture could increase herbicide resistance in weeds, creating “superweeds” that are resistant to glyphosate and other common weedkillers – making Roundup Ready crops counterproductive.
Learn About Roundup Ready Crops – And Form Your Own Opinion
There are certainly convincing arguments to be made on both sides of this debate. On one hand, the increased use of conservation tillage is very beneficial to the environment, and Monsanto has shown evidence that Roundup Ready crops do, indeed, boost crop yield.
However, there are convincing arguments to be made to the alternative – and any farmers who are interested in Roundup Ready crops owe it to themselves to understand both sides of the issue before making any seed purchasing decisions.
So think about this overview, check out the referenced links, and form your own opinion – we’re sure you’ll do what’s right for you and your farm.