Friday, June 25, 2010

Another factor in the immigration debate: Roundup Resistance

Last month, we documented our issues with immigration reform. Namely, that it was foolish to think it would ever really happen, given our country's dependency on two vital cogs of our capitalism: Cheap goods and cheap labor. About the time we wrote that, we were on the road and listening to NPR (yes...we're commies) and caught a very interesting program on an issue that is threatening American farmers: Roundup Resistance.

No...we aren't talking about illegal field hands running from INS patrols. The term "Roundup resistance" refers to the phenomenon of weeds becoming immune to the widely-used herbicide introduced in the 1976 by Monsanto: Roundup.

When Monsanto introduced Roundup in 1976, "it was like the best thing since
sliced bread," said Garry Niemeyer, who grows corn and soybeans near Auburn in
central Illinois.

When the weed killer Roundup was introduced in the
1970s, it proved it could kill nearly any plant while still being safer than
many other herbicides, and it allowed farmers to give up harsher chemicals and
reduce tilling that can contribute to erosion.

To make Roundup work even better, Monsato introduced roundup-resistant crop seeds. This way, farmers could plant their corn and soybeans and spray Roundup on the emerging crops to wipe out the weeds coming up right along with the crop. 90% of the soybeans and 70% of the corn and cotton in the United States comes from Monsato's Roundup Ready seeds.

The problem arises from the fact that you can't keep mother nature down. She overcomes. She adapts. She improvises. She is very much like one of Gunny Highway's recon marines and what had happened is...the weeds are evolving and becoming resistant to Roundup.

Ok. So what, 'Pine? What's that got to do with immigration reform? of the big benefits we have gained over the last 30+ years of using this modern herbicidal miracle is that it has drastically decreased the amount of manual labor needed to farm. You know what you don't see a lot of any more? Field hands in the field (unless it's pickin' time).

Think on it. We live in the south. When's the last time you saw a bunch of folks out in these huge corn and soybean fields hoeing weeds, like in the pic above? Anyone? Bueller?
You haven't. That kind of scene has become ancient history. So, who pray tell, is gonna do this manual labor as mother nature continues to evolve? We're gonna put a guess out there and predict it ain't gonna be a lot of those who are clamoring the loudest right now for every other state in the Union to follow Arizona's lead. And in a lot of places, that's gonna be the main solution. Environmental problems related to erosion are gonna keep farmers from just going back to tilling up weeds. That simply can't be done in large parts of the country. No...the answer is going to be our farming industry evolving as well with the use of cover-crops AND the return of more basic manual labor to our food-generating efforts.

There is a high likelihood that the need for manual labor is only going to increase in our farming industry in the future. This is an issue that needs to be considered as the argument over immigration reform continues.

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