A fair bit of media time around the globe has been devoted recently to the very real and potentially horrific consequences of the growing resistance of many types of harmful bacteria to antibiotics.
That coverage has been justified and it’s now widely accepted that if new antibiotics are not quickly found, the world faces a potential return to the health dark ages where relatively minor infections killed people with terrifying regularity.
There is another similar story though, which has not received quite the coverage it perhaps deserves. That is the growing resistance of weeds around the globe to herbicides and what that might mean for agriculture and crop yields in the future.
With a population on the planet of over seven billion, the challenge of feeding people has never been higher.
However imperfect food distribution is around the globe and recognising the fact that famines still occur in parts of the world, nevertheless, it is only modern farming methods and agricultural machinery that have allowed us to even partly cope with the challenges of feeding this huge number of human beings.
Whatever we may feel instinctively about the dangers of relying on herbicides to protect our agriculture, today they are an intrinsic part of modern farming and therefore of feeding our population. While there are libraries full of science on the subject, much of it boils down to simply saying that if you have a limited growing capacity, you want to use it for the crops you choose without having them put at risk by competition from sometimes very invasive and destructive weeds.
Although there have been numerous attempts to adopt what might be called green and more natural ways of weed control, herbicides have played and continue to play an important part in this process. Unfortunately, just like bacteria, increasing numbers of extremely harmful weeds are becoming resistant to the current generation of these products.
What You Can Do
There are now major international scientific and collaborative enterprises underway, which are trying to identify new generations of herbicides. At the moment, very little headline news has come out of this process but work continues.
In the meantime, whether you have an ordinary residential garden or even a small plot of land where you grow various crops, there are certain things you can do to potentially help the situation.
1. Consider cutting back on or dropping altogether, your use of industrial herbicides. This is difficult in large-scale farming environments but easier to achieve in smaller situations. The less that existing generation herbicides are used, the longer they will probably remain effective overall or in emergencies.
2. Read up on natural methods of weed control. There are many ‘natural’ techniques available that do not result in you needing a vast chemicals plant backing you up when trying to keep your weeds down. Those methods will vary depending upon where you are and the weeds involved but there will certainly be green options available on the Internet that do not involve spraying with complex and controversial chemicals.
3. Be prepared to use more manual labour. Our ancestors often kept their growing areas under control simply by pulling weeds as they appeared. Granted, we may have far less time available today that they did but even so, most of us could do far more simply by being prepared to invest a relatively little extra time and effort.
Thinking about shifting yourself away from a dependence on chemical herbicidal products may yield benefits in the medium to long-term both for you and the wider agricultural environment.