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Ag chemical industry news: A synopsis
by Mike Owen

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May 11, 1998 - Two recent articles in the Pesticide Action Network North America ( provided some insight into how the agricultural chemical industry is currently affecting agriculture, at least according to PANUPS. It should be noted that PANUPS is a publication of an advocate group and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iowa State University. Refer to the article for a more detailed account.

An article that appeared in the April 24th edition suggests that biotech crops are actually causing profit losses for farmers. The University of Arkansas reported a loss of $25 per acre attributable to the genetically engineered Bt cotton. The study indicated that Bt cotton was highly variable and net income ranged from $168 per acre less than non-Bt cotton to $127 more. The causes of the profit variation were attributed to differences in yield, management and harvest costs, and the technology fee ascribed to the Bt cotton.

It was also reported that American Cyanamid had evidence that glyphosate resistant soybeans, an important Monsanto biotech product, could cost soybean producers up to $43 per acre in losses attributable to poor yield. Growers in the United States conducted the study during 1997 and glyphosate was applied once during the growing season as the weed control strategy. The glyphosate system was compared to the use of a residual herbicide and the genetically modified soybean varieties were compared to other soybean varieties that were sensitive to glyphosate.

Monsanto claims that there is no loss of yield attributable to the genetic modification and the use of glyphosate as the weed management strategy. In fact, they report a two-bushel per acre increase. Doug Dorsey, Monsanto manager for Roundup Ready Soybeans indicated that some growers were seeing reduced yields and attributed these reductions to growers planting the glyphosate resistant soybeans on weedy fields and the possibility that some soybean varieties having the genetic modification for resistance to glyphosate did not have the highest yield potential.

The first concession is most important. Suggesting that the level of weed infestation caused the reduction in yield is probably correct, however the interpretation that the weedy fields were the specific cause of the yield loss was incorrect. The number of weeds was not the problem, but the management of the glyphosate system for weed control, specifically the timing of the initial application and the use of supplemental glyphosate applications, were the issues.

It is suggested that growers, desiring to use only one application of glyphosate for the entire weed control program, delayed the application until weed interference caused a reduction in yield. Had the initial application been timed correctly, a second application to control later emerging weeds would likely be required to meet grower weed control expectations.

Obviously, a second application doubles the weed control cost and reduces potential profit. This highlights the fact that grower management is a critical component of using genetically modified crops. The issue is not whether or not the weeds can be controlled, but whether or not they can be eliminated from the cropping system soon enough and kept out of the crop long enough to allow the soybean crop to achieve the maximum potential yield. It is anticipated that this will be a problem in 1998 soybean production and will highlight the need for understanding the dynamic relationship between weeds, crops, and postemergence herbicides.

Regardless of these problems, Monsanto sales were reported to grow in 1997 and Roundup sales increased 20%. Major increases in Roundup sales were reported in Latin America, Australia, and Asia and are linked with glyphosate-tolerant crops. Monsanto is currently listed as second on a list of top 10 agrochemical companies with sales of $3,126,000,000. Novartis was first with $4,199,000,000 in sales, an increase of 20.7%. Zeneca, DuPont, and AgrEvo followed as third, fourth, and fifth in sales. The next five were Bayer, Rhone Poulenc, Cyanamid, Dow Agrosciences, and BASF in world sales ranking. BASF reported the greatest change since 1996 with sales increasing 42%.  Refer to the May 6, 1998 edition of PANUPS for more information.

Prepared by Mike Owen, extension weed management specialist, Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University

For more information contact:
ISU Extension Agronomy
2104 Agronomy Hall
Ames, Iowa 50011-1010
Voice: (515) 294-1923
Fax: (515) 294-9985
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Common chemical and trade names are used in this publication. The use of trade names is for clarity by the reader. Inclusion of a trade name does not imply endorsement of that particular brand of herbicide and exclusion does not imply nonapproval.