Herbicides Bring Significant Environment, Soil Benefits

CropLife Foundation study says farmers earned $16 billion more in increased yields and saved $10 billion in reduced weed control costs by using herbicides. Compiled by staff

Published on: Jun 22, 2006

According to a recent study by CropLife Foundation, herbicide use decreases soil erosion, fuel consumption, farming operations costs and labor.

The report, "The Value of Herbicides in U.S. Crop Production," states farmers earned $16 billion more because of increased crop yields and saved $10 billion in reduced weed control costs by using herbicides.

The study shows that by using herbicides to control weeds, U.S. farmers: have saved 337 million gallons of diesel fuel that would otherwise be needed each year for farmers to use mechanical tillage to replace chemical spraying; increased crop production by 20%, equal to 296 billion pounds of food and fiber; and reduced the cost of farming by $10 billion a year.

"Corn growers are very mindful of the need to ensure environmental stewardship, which is why we work to improve the technology we use in our production operations," says Bill Chase, NCGA Production and Stewardship Action Team chairman. "Today's corn growers are growing more corn on fewer acres with fewer inputs and are achieving greater environmental benefits."

The report also included findings on farming operation practices, noting U.S. growers would have to abandon no-till production practices if they were to reduce herbicide use. The results found that resuming tillage practices would amount to soil erosion at much higher levels (356 billion pounds higher), in addition to increased deposits of sediment in streams and rivers.

Chase also notes conservation methods such as the no-till method, where the soil is left completely undisturbed, is the most effective soil-conserving system and can reduce erosion by 90% or more. Chase adds that with the elimination of tillage, farmers must rely on herbicides to control the weeds.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 41% of all cropland is under a conservation tillage system where farmers leave the stubble or residue from the previous crop to cover the soil's surface after planting. The department cites that by leaving the crop residue and reducing or eliminating tillage trips, farmers are able to protect the soil from water and wind erosion, conserve moisture, reduce runoff, improve wildlife habitat and limit output of labor, fuel and machinery.