Study touts benefits of herbicides to U.S. farmers

U.S. farmers would be up a creek without herbicides, according to a new study by the Crop Protection Research Institute.

The study, endorsed by 28 commodity groups, pegs the total benefits from herbicides at more than $21 billion annually.

Looking at the 2002 crop, year CPRI director Leonard Gianessi and research associate Nathan Reigner estimated that without herbicides U.S. crop harvests could suffer yield reductions of more than 289 billion pounds and farmers would lose more than more than $13 billion in income. The economic benefits include a $7.7 billion reduction in weed control costs.

U.S. growers spend $6.6 billion for herbicides and their application annually.

“Herbicide use also benefits farmers by allowing them to use no-till production on 52 million acres and prevent 34 billion of soil erosion annually,” Gianessi says.

Among corn, cotton and soybean crops, herbicides are used on more than 95 percent of acres. The benefits to farmers include cutting losses to weeds by approximately 23 percent and savings in farm income of $8 billion nationwide.

Nationwide, without herbicides, the cotton crop would experience a 27 percent loss in yield; peanuts, 52 percent loss; soybeans, a 26 percent loss; and potatoes, a 32 percent loss.

The study, which can be found at, breaks out the benefits on a state-by-state basis.

For example, in California the benefits are more than $1.2 billion. The benefits in Mississippi are more than $509 million; North Carolina, $533 million; Alabama, $243 million; Georgia, $728 million; Texas, $1.4 billion; Louisiana, $499 million; Missouri, $876 million; and Tennessee, $234 million.

Herbicides substitute for the use of cultivation and laborers for hoeing weeds. To maintain the current crop yields with laborers for weed removal, 69 million additional farm workers laboring 11 billion hours would be required each summer in the U.S.

“Weeds are everywhere,” Gianessi says. “Every acre of soil contains 50 to 300 million buried weed seeds that can stay viable underground for several decades. More than 2.5 million weeds emerge every year on every acre of cropland. Weeds compete for water, nutrients, space and sunlight. These weeds must be controlled to prevent crop losses.”

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