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(Ed. note - For those farmers in transition, Roundup is usually the last link to their chemical past, often given up reluctantly. Here's one farmer's thoughts on this product.)
"Roundup is the cure-all for all our weed problems!" That is the message Monsanto, its creator, and many agricultural institutions would have us believe. After all, it's a very low-risk herbicide, with respect to an LD 50 level that makes it safer than common table salt. Extensive testing has confirmed that the spray is neutralized by soil organisms immediately upon contact - no troublesome residues to affect crop rotation or even the soil life. And now with its patent expired, it has become so attractively cheap, (Monsanto likely rounding up more profits through increased sales), the farmer is blind to any alternative but Roundup.
As a farmer working in the area between ecological and conventional farming, the use of Roundup for perennial weed control has been a tool too convenient to give up. However, I have come to some troubling conclusions. The convenience factor advertised by the company isn't very feasible when you try to exactly match all the necessary conditions, (i.e. proper growth stage of the target plants, temperature, precipitation, wind speed, exposure of the target plant leaves, days after/before killing frost, avoidance of missed strips, etc.), to ensure optimum control (95%+ kill). If one or two factors aren't right, you will realize more benefits by using your money as fireplace kindling.
If however, everything works and you end up with uniformly-killed vegetation, you have a much greater problem on your hands. A field of brown plants shows no sign of above-ground life; and since Roundup is a systemic herbicide, all root life has atrophied as well. Plant life is the transmitter between above-ground and subsurface life forces. Only through plants can soil life utilize the energy on which it exists, that of the sun. This occurs through complex interactions in the plant root zone. If the sprayed field is left idle for any length of time, the entire soil life suffers a major breakdown. Any remaining soil tilth will disappear, and during the next tillage pass you will pull up dead, clumpy soil with a much lower earthworm count. Even if all goes well, it takes a very long time for the soil to recover properly.
As farmers we have the choice whether to maintain a healthy, vibrant soil with all its benefits of healthy, disease-free crops, erosion resistance, tolerance to drought and flooding, organic nutrient exchange, and lower horse-power requirements for tillage; or to cause havoc to the soil ecology with all its nasty and costly side-effects. Even when using a less controversial pesticide like Roundup, we should recognize the price we really pay.
Copyright © 1993 Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
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