Herbicides keep costs down, help feed world, says new study

If farmers stopped using herbicides many environmental groups would be pleased, but consumers may not rejoice because food would be much, much more expensive.

A Weed Science Society of America study has concluded that corn yields would drop by 52 percent and soybean yields by 49.5 percent in the U.S. and Canada, if producers didn’t use herbicides and other weed control measures.

The reduced yields represent $43 billion (US) in crop production losses, per annum, based on a corn price of $4.94 per bushel and soybeans at $10.61 per bu.

“It’s an astonishing number and indicates the significant threat weeds present to crop production,” says Anita Dille, Kansas State University weed scientist and study lead author.  “It also drives home the importance of taking steps to mitigate the development of herbicide resistance.”

A University of Guelph weed scientist, Peter Sikkema, was a co-author of the paper. Sikkema helped compile yield loss estimates for Ontario, assuming no herbicides or other weed control methods:

–    Ontario corn yields would decline by 51.4 percent

–    Across Canada, the lower yields would reduce farm income, from corn, by $500 million

–    Ontario soybean yields would drop by 38.1 percent

–    In Canada the cut in soybean production would lower crop receipts by approximately $1.0 billion

–    In Canada and the U.S. the lack of weed control in soybeans would potentially cost farmers $16 billion in production losses

–    In corn, the estimated losses are $27 billion

The yield declines in corn and soybeans may overestimate the yield impact of weeds on other crops. Corn and soy are row crops and are more dependent on herbicides than the cool season crops of Western Canada.

“Our wheat, canola, winter-wheat and a lot of our cereals are very competitive (with weeds),” said Jeanette Gaultier, Manitoba Agriculture weed specialist. The complete paper, on corn and soybean losses because of weeds, will be published in an upcoming issue of Weed Technology.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com


  • Denise

    70% of the US population is overweight or obese. Alot less gmo corn, gmo soybean gmo canola and gmo sugarbeets grown with pesticides, in the food supply, would be a good thing for people’s health and people’s wallets plus the skyrocketing costs to the health care system.
    “The critical impact of the food we eat” – jugglingdynamite.com

  • Guest

    Just read in the German news the other day. The food that is wasted in the world ever year. Would feed the world’s hungry population several times over.

    • Stephen Daniels

      Probably untrue but so what?Food is not where it’s needed anyways and isn’t free.I can report if North Americans cut auto travel by half the hungry of the world would have fuel to cook with.

      • Harold

        “Probably untrue.” Food isn’t free. If people drive less then the hungry world will have fuel to cook with. Very informative. I’ll pass that by my buddies at the next wiener roast.

        • Stephen Daniels

          Yes Harold I should have said’German news reports’ that adds so much credibility to fluff factoids.

          • Harold

            Your statement “Probably untrue but so what” rates less than a factiod in relation to a German news report. Your own research into this German News release would have added credibility or dismissed it. How can anyone take you seriously when the basis of your factiods are likely “Probably” and “so what”? If we drive less…. “the hungry of world would have fuel to cook with”. Explain how you would put the two together and make it credible for a evolving reality. Is what your saying Fluff? Germany says give them the food we will waste. Is that fluff? You say food isn’t free but then neither is waste.

  • Dayton

    Actually the 43 billion wouldn’t be lost. It would just end up in farmers pockets instead of Chemical companies. Can the average person afford to pay more for a loaf of bread? Of course they could the price hasn’t changed since the 70’s. Time for a raise I would think. Oh, and the same starving world tactic has been around since the 70’s too.

  • John Fefchak

    “Help Feed the World”…says a new study.
    What are we ….Hypocrites? It surely seems that we are.
    We burn FOOD for fuel.

    The search for profit must not go unchecked and without
    challenge for the gluttons who with costly contributions
    and blessings of government(s) have turned to burning
    ‘food for fuel’, by the manufacturing of ethanol.

    And by doing this, squandering the most precious resources
    of water and grain products for the greedy ambitions of investors,
    who can merely provide some transitory financial benefits;
    we sacrifice our children and families, as victims, to the demands
    and economic powers of industry.

    Comments by Prof. Suzuki.
    Suzuki sighed and shook his head when asked about the need for farmers to increase production to feed nine billion people by 2050.

    “You mean to tell me that western farmers have a responsibility to feed people in India, China and Europe? Bullshit,” he said, as about a dozen people waited for a box of his recent book, The Legacy, to be delivered to the table.

  • richard

    If the “Weed Science Society of America” had any integrity it would acknowledge the fact that weed pressure is largely a function of excess NPK as well as trace mineral deficiencies, altered soil Ph and compaction…..all rife in modern industrial agriculture. Neither is there any mention of the failure of the cheap food policy of the western world…..Consumers now pay seven percent of their disposable income to feed themselves…..it was fifteen percent twenty years ago. Cheap food disrespects those who produce and consume it. It leads to cheap attitudes, cheap lives, cheap culture…..and very expensive health care. Furthermore it does not and never will feed the world…..The spectre of excess in the face of starvation is hardly a ringing endorsement for “more of the same” vainglory.

  • Harold

    If herbicides are to help feed the world- After decades, why are they not fed? If herbicides are to feed the world, are the corporate donating from their profits as we are? Only a humanitarian to those who by their product? Perhaps not the humanitarian effort as claimed.