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Weeds Fight Back

They're coming back. Armed with cactus-like spines, battle axes, sending their weapons long-range to drift in the autumn winds, the weeds are reclaiming fields of soybeans, corn, and cotton, reclaiming fields they've been exterminated from since the 1990s when RoundUp Ready crops hit the market.

Like the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, and the public payphone, all weeding apparatus had become obsolete since the 1990s, when farmers signed contracts agreeing never to replant their genetically-modified, RoundUp Ready crops, but rather to purchase the expensive seeds from Monsanto. With scrap metal prices high, the cultivators, hoes, and machetes used for millenia for mechanical weeding, were junked. “We don't need them anymore.”

Indeed, weeding appeared to be a thing of the past for crops whose DNA had been altered to be resistant to the herbicide that killed every plant in the fields. American farmers were entering a Brave New World where any moron could grow a decent crop as long as they forked over enough dough to Monsanto for the magic seeds and herbicide — no need to till at all anymore. Just plant the crop and spray the entire Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri valleys with the same chemical. Monopoly does not rhyme with Monsanto, but it almost does.

With no need to till fields, or cultivate, or do any kind of weed management, the smaller farmers were basically squeezed out of the game, as one guy could now plant and harvest three times as much land. It was off to the races. It was a good run, basically lasting two decades.

But the RoundUp ain't working anymore.

“I walked bean fields with a machete as a kid,” Uncle Huck said the other day. “We ain't goin’ back to that.”

They are. The farmers are scared. They're walking bean fields with machetes for the first time in decades. Every pigweed, horseweed, lambsquarters, mare's tail — the list goes on — that rears its seed heads above the ripening beans and corn might be RoundUp-Resistant. If it goes to seed…

Already half the soybean fields we drive past in these parts have been overgrown in weeds, especially the underdog, mare's tail, that never stood a chance when we still worked the fields with hoes and plows, these demons exponentially increasing now that the farmers' magic potion, RoundUp, has lost its potency. There are other herbicides, to be sure, but as it stands now, the weeds have the upper hand.

With no alternative strategy, having abandoned traditional farming practices entirely, the machete is coming back. Discs and other tillage equipment that mostly sat idle are now appearing in the fields again, immediately following harvest in a frantic effort to prevent these super weeds from going to seed.

This phenomenon, which spells disaster not only for grain producers but for the massive CAFO livestock factories that depend on corn and soybeans, has been predicted ever since the RoundUp Ready crops literally took the planet's ag land by storm — Blitzkrieg, if you will. Just like with the collapse of the housing market in 2008 that any clear-eyed observer of human drama with a semi-deep understanding of recent modern history could have predicted, anyone who took a step back and contemplated the notion of attempting to use One Herbicide, the world over, to annihilate all weeds, had to suspect that Nature was going to swing back.

Now Nature is poised to kick Corporate Ag's ass. It appears that RoundUp will be useless as a weed control throughout the South and Midwest within several years where it is not already failing. Now, Mexican “migrant” workers — aka “slaves” — are replacing RoundUp for weed control, swinging machetes or simply pulling weeds. I guess the bright side of this equation might be that manual labor might soon be in high demand again.

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