Weeds are everywhere. With the arrival of spring, the first plant you see emerging from the ground will probably be a weed. Warmer weather, rainfall and longer days will soon nourish weed populations averaging 2.5 million plants per acre and cover U.S. farmland with over 550 trillion yield robbing, vegetative thieves.
Left unchecked, U.S. crop harvests could suffer yield reductions of more than 289 billion pounds and farmers would lose more than $13 billion in income, says the Crop Protection Research Institute (CPRI) which issued State-by-state Estimates of crop losses for key crops and outlined the value of herbicides to U.S. farmers.
According to Leonard Gianessi, director of the non-profit research institute, "Every acre of soil contains 50 to 300 million buried weed seeds that can stay viable underground for several decades while 2.5 million weeds emerge every year on every acre of cropland. They compete with crops for water, nutrients, space and sunlight. To prevent crop losses they must be controlled."
The total value of herbicides to U.S. farmers is estimated to be more than $21 billion, according to CPRI data. The economic benefits include a $7.7 billion reduction in weed control costs and savings of approximately $13.3 billion in potential crop losses. Herbicide use also benefits farmers by allowing them to use no-till production on 52 million acres and prevent 304 billion pounds of soil erosion each year, Gianessi adds.
The CPRI estimates that among corn, cotton and soybean crops, over 95% of acres are treated with herbicides and the benefits to farmers include the mitigation of crop losses to weeds (approximately 23%) and savings in farm income of $8 billion nationwide. For example, among potatoes 52% of yields would be lost without the use of herbicides, according to the research institute study, which would reduce the total crop value of U.S. potatoes from $1 billion to $480 million.
Herbicides for weed control represent 60% of the volume and 65% of the expenditures for pesticides used by U.S. farmers. Each year, U.S. growers spend approximately $6.6 billion for herbicides and their applications.
The vital role herbicides play in U.S. agriculture was established in a report, "The Value of Herbicides to U.S. Crop Production." The report and illustrative photographs are available on the Crop Protection Research Institute Web site.