Weed control is one of the farmer's greatest challenges in producing crops, as poorly controlled weeds drastically reduce crop yield and quality. With the continued need to increase yields, herbicides are an important part of commercial food production and account for 70% of all agricultural pesticide use. Most famers use selective chemical herbicides that allow crops to survive and grow while eliminating the weeds in the field. Residue from herbicide application can remain in the soil for various lengths of time, with most modern chemical herbicides being formulated to decompose within a shorter period of time to allow for future crop production. However, herbicides can still spread to nearby waterways and are detected in surface waters surrounding agricultural regions.
Genetic engineering advances crop herbicide tolerance
Herbicide tolerance is a plants’ ability to withstand a particular chemical herbicide. This allows the farmer to kill weeds while not harming the crops. As most plants are naturally tolerant of selective herbicides, researchers can utilize this natural resistance to breed broad-spectrum resistance into agricultural crop varieties. This enables farmers to use fewer applications of a single herbicide, making the process of killing weeds more efficient and flexible.
Glyphosate, commonly known as Roundup, is a broad-spectrum herbicide used to eliminate plants during their active growth stage. Following glyphosate’s introduction, resistant plants were identified that allowed scientists to use biotechnology in producing agricultural crops resistant to this specific herbicide, including corn and soybean. Glyphosate resistant crops are now grown on 206 million acres worldwide. In addition to reducing pesticide levels, benefits of using to glyphosate resistant crops include a reduction in soil erosion through decreased tilling, an increase in beneficial insects due to decreased spraying and an increase in food source for farmland birds by allowing the remainder of grains to remain in the field over the winter.