Living Without Herbicides

Learning to Live Without Herbicides

Herbicides are among the modern miracles that scientists invented to improve our lives. The labor they save makes them appealing, even habit-forming, and the profit they produce makes companies promote them even after other scientists discovered deadly side effects.

I was a heavy pesticide user.  Biting bugs and giant weeds are among my least favorite things.  It took years to break the pesticide habit.  Here are the three personal experiences that let me escape Monsanto’s clutches:

In 1901, shrubs covered this scene. When I repeated the photo in 2008 (this photo), invasive plants from Asia had replaced almost all the shrubs.

In 1901, shrubs covered this scene. When I repeated the photo in 2008 (this photo), invasive plants from Asia had replaced almost all the shrubs.

1.)  During 15 years in university teaching and researcher, I learned that invasive plants from Asia and Africa have degraded the deserts and desert grasslands of the western U. S.   The experience taught me the dangers of invasive plants, even those that are attractive and seem to be beneficial.

One of the ponds on Coldwater Farm

One of the ponds on Coldwater Farm.

1-20050327-P10107172.)  In 1989, my wife and I purchased a small 20-acre farm in central Arizona, U. S. A.  When we moved in, invasive weeds covered the pastures, driveways, and garden.  We began mowing, pulling, and hoeing.  My father, a life-long farmer whose 1950 degree in agricultural practice had given him faith in new technology, predicted we would have to start using herbicides.  After the first year we did.  For the next few years, I sprayed barrels of 2,4-D on the pastures, and Monsanto’s Roundup(R) on fence rows, driveways, and the margins of pastures and lawns.  I also became a heavy user of chemical fertilizers and garden insecticides.

2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) is a phenoxy herbicide and plant growth regulator in use in the U.S. since the 1940s. It is found in about 600 products registered for agricultural, residential, industrial and aquatic uses.

I continued to follow the scientific literature, and began seeing more studies tying herbicides to cancer and to wildlife decline.  The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates pesticides, but there is widespread doubt that the Agency’s rulings are reliable.  I had also seen warnings about chemical fertilizers, and I had learned that the earthworms and robins declined when I followed fertilizer manufacturer recommendations for multiple applications in different seasons.

The herbicides used to kill weeds have two undisputed effects on nature:  They can poison arthropods and the animals that eat them, and they eliminate plants that are hosts for Monarch Butterflies and many other small creatures.  The photos show some of the threatened species at Coldwater Farm.

In 2007I stopped using herbicides, insecticides, and chemical fertilizers.

3.)  In 2010 I updated my knowledge of weed research.  I won a contract to write the “Weed-Management Plan” for one of the districts of the U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I spent five months studying the literature on invasive plants.  I learned that despite many unanswered questions about invasive plants, there are some reliable practices for non-chemical weed control.  I’m working on a post that summarizes the strategies and tactics used to control pests without chemicals.

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