Stinkbugs, Soybeans and Superweeds

Natural Selection is the enemy of unnatural agriculture.  As anyone who made it through 10th grade biology knows, through the process of natural selection organisms can overcome problems that might otherwise drive them into extinction.  Simply put, those genetic traits that assist in resisting the problem survive, while those that cannot resist it do not.  The organisms that survive the trial are stronger, and the threat is eliminated.  Many of us today, for example, still carry around the genetic material that made our ancestors resistant to the Black Plague.  Those who did not have this resistance died, and they have no descendants.

We grow a lot of soybeans in the U.S.  In fact, soybeans are second only to corn in agricultural output.  Soybeans are typically grown in rotation with corn, as they help revive the soil after a crop of nitrogen-hungry corn.  Soybeans grown in the U.S. are used to make soy oil, soy flour, tofu and infant formula.  Most ends up as animal feed, for animals that in turn are ultimately consumed by us humans.

Glyphosate is a poison developed by Monsanto Corporation and most commonly sold under the trade name “Roundup.”  It is highly toxic and extremely effective.  Most broadleaf vegetation is throughly and completely wiped out by an application of glyphosate.

OK–natural selection, soybeans, glyphosate–where are we going with this?  And what does any of it have to do with stinkbugs?

I recently read an article emphasizing the importance of scouting soybean fields for weed and insect infestation.  The article, sponsored no doubt by a chemical company, advocated vigilance, and chemical warfare.  Here are a few quotes from “longtime crop consultant Charles Denver”:

–“But we now have to scout soybeans to keep stinkbugs from causing a total yield disaster.  In the last few years in Louisiana and the southern half of both Mississippi and Arkansas, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in five or six different species of stinkbug.  Several are harder to kill and require different rates, products and frequencies of sprays.”

–“We’re beginning to see more resistance to Roundup and other herbicides, and its becoming a larger scouting issue and will eventually drive needed weed control changes.”

From a different consultant:

–“My biggest economic challenges here in Western Iowa are bean leaf beetle and aphids in soybeans….For instance, this year I think it will pay to go with all CruiserMaxx seed treatment to stop both the bean leaf beetle and the virus–due to higher recent pest populations.”

Any tenth grader could tell these experts what’s going on here.  Mother Nature is simply adapting to these chemical creations, and proceeding on. 

The chemical companies continue to attempt to genetically modify soybean seeds for aphid resistance, for example.  But since aphids go through 15-20 generations in one growing season, they simply mutate and overcome the poison.  And the scientists go back to their test tubes.

This is what Leon Streit, a “senior soybean research scientist” with Dupont’s Pioneer Hi-Bred division says, “We’re aggressively integrating specific genes into our elite germplasm, as well as exploring the stacked gene approach and the transgenetic approach.  And…there are already reports of some aphid biotypes overcoming the Rag1 aphid-resistant gene….”

Aggressively integrating specific genes into our elite germplasm?   Doesn’t that sound like something out of Dr. Frankenstein?

This completely unnatural and unsustainable method of pest and weed control is doomed to fail. 

Monsanto scientists created and patented seeds genetically modified to be what they called “Roundup Ready.”  Just plant the Monsanto brand corn, soybean or canola seed and when the crop emerges, douse it with glyphosate.  The genetically modified plants would survive and all the other vegetation would be killed by the poison.  In fact, over 90% of the soybeans grown in the U.S. today come from this Monsanto brand genetically modified seed.

But what is happening with stinkbugs and aphids, is also happening with weeds.  Nature fights back, and now new “superweeds” are appearing, which are completely immune to the effects of glyphosate.  A particularly aggressive Roundup-resistant pigweed is spreading through the South, for example, seriously threatening the cotton crop.  So the scientists scramble back to their laboratories to cook up something new.  Of course the poison needed to kill poison-tolerant weeds and bugs must be even more toxic than the now useless variety.  And the descent into supertoxidity continues.

Environments friendly to beneficial insects, more frequent crop rotations, better soil management, more hand labor, and acceptance of lower yields, are just some of the ways sustainable farmers deal with pests and weeds.  Natural selection is our friend, not our enemy.

Alas, my attempts to use soybeans as a cover crop the last two years have failed.  But the failure had nothing to do with stinkbugs, aphids or weeds.  The deer just love them too much, and they mow them down as soon as they emerge.  No doubt Monsanto is working on a seed to produce soybeans that deer won’t eat.  At least not until some new poison-resistant superdeer appears.

When our edamame is ready this year, you can be sure that it didn’t come from genetically modified seed, and that it has never been sprayed with insecticides or pesticides.  But when you eat anything produced by industrial agriculture that is derived from soybeans, you can be sure that it has been.

Grace and Peace