Herbicide resistance has been a growing problem for farmers but Bayer says its researchers have made a breakthrough that could be a game-changer for producers battling resistant grasses. The bad news is it probably won’t be available for about a decade.
Bayer’s scientists have identified a chemical molecule that’s proved effective against glyphosate-resistant ryegrass and other grasses that threaten many row crops. It’s being billed as the first new product of its kind to come along in decades and is currently entering the second phase of development. Apparently, Bayer’s been working on it for about five years now.
The company views the new molecule as an eventual complement rather than a replacement for top herbicides glyphosate and dicamba as it doesn’t have the same broad-spectrum capabilities. Glyphosate, for instance, has the capacity to kill dozens of weed species, where the new molecule appears to only be effective against grasses.
Details are light but Bayer says the new weed killer works in a novel way compared to other herbicides. According to Bayer, it’s been 30 years since a novel weedkilling technology has been introduced. One exciting prospect is the company’s claim that the molecules “mode of action” is expected to make it harder for plants to develop resistance. Bob Reiter, the head of research and development for Bayer’s Crop Science Division, says “Weeds haven’t seen this before, so they’re going to be challenged.”
Glyphosate was first approved for use in the 1970s. As early as the 1990s, there were few known glyphosate-resistant weeds. However, by 2014 it had become a huge problem with some 23 glyphosate-resistant species identified, including Palmer amaranth. The species is capable of quickly developing resistance to multiple herbicides and has developed multiple mechanisms for glyphosate resistance. Dicamba, which was first registered in 1967, wasn’t really widely adopted until the commercial introduction of dicamba-tolerant crops in 2014. In the laboratory, researchers have demonstrated weed resistance to dicamba within three generations of exposure. In the field, many of the weeds missed are Palmer amaranth. There is also growing evidence of control problems for waterhemp, as well as resistance observations for grassier weeds when dicamba is mixed with glyphosate.
Bayer is also facing numerous complaints and legal actions surrounding Roundup and dicamba. The company is currently seeking to settle thousands of lawsuits over claims that Roundup causes cancer and some 140 lawsuits over allegations that dicamba drift has damaged neighboring crops not engineered to resist it. Last year, Bayer said it was investing 5 billion euros (approximately US$5.41 billion) to develop additional methods to combat weeds over the next decade. (Sources: St. Louis Today, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USDA)