Guest Blog: Leonard Gianessi of CropLife Foundation on Herbicides and Resource Conservation

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
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If you think that agriculture looks different than it did 150 years ago, you’re right. Thinking that agriculture is less sustainable than before – that’s where you’re wrong! Early American agriculture was not on a sustainable path. Because westward expansion in the 19th century continually brought more land into production, good land management was not a priority. Far too much of our nation’s soil was lost to erosion caused by tillage. Today, growers address the issue of soil erosion by using herbicides to control weeds instead of tillage. Instead of tilling a field 10 times, a farmer can spray an herbicide and till only 3 times, or maybe not at all, depending on other conditions. Compared to using a moldboard plow, no-till farming reduces soil erosion by as much as 90%! No-till farming is extremely important in places like the Pacific Northwest, where steep slopes make soil erosion a big problem.

Herbicide use has also made a significant contribution to water conservation in this country. Soil that is tilled dries out from its increased contact with air. Using herbicides to kill weeds doesn’t dry out the soil, therefore growers don’t need to irrigate as much. A Kansas study found herbicide use increased soil moisture by 50%.

Herbicides even save energy! Although making herbicides requires fossil fuels, using herbicides in place of tillage still saves fuel because it takes less energy to spray than to plow and because one round with a sprayer replaces several rounds with tillage equipment.

A new report about the importance of herbicides for natural resource conservation in the U.S. has been released by the Crop Protection Research Institute. To read the report, click here.

Hi, I’m Leonard Gianessi, Director of the Crop Protection Research Institute of CropLife Foundation. I’ve spent years researching the value of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides and comparing them to other plant protection methods. Before coming to CropLife, I was a senior researcher at the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy.

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