Controversy hit last week when lawmakers threatened to cut U.S. funding for the World Health Organization’s cancer research program over its findings that glyphosate, the herbicide found in Roundup and other weed killers, could be carcinogenic.
Cornell University professor of soil and crop sciences, Antonio DiTommaso, says that while the political debate is noteworthy, the larger issue is finding ways to reduce our overreliance on herbicides to avert future weed problems. DiTomasso is an expert on the factors impacting the reproduction of important agricultural weeds and invasive plant species.
“The history of pest management has clearly taught us that relying on a single tactic such as herbicides for control of weeds often causes more problems for management and the environment later through a rise in the number of resistant weeds and overuse of herbicides.
“A more sustainable and economically viable long-term strategy: Use an integrated weed management approach where preventing weeds from moving into cropping areas and landscapes are emphasized and focus on other cultural or biological methods. In this approach, herbicides must become a last resort — rather than the first option — as is commonly done in many cropland and non-cropland systems today.
“We need to better understand why specific weeds occur in certain cropping and landscape systems and focus research and efforts in trying to disrupt this close crop-weed relationship. In other words, we must understand the cause of the problem rather than simply addressing the symptom by increasing herbicide use.”