Two sides of the pond: US vs UK agriculture

For me, a visit to the US is essential to understand the role of the some of the largest R&D companies in agriculture. I drove over 8,000 miles and visited 19 different states while I was there, from the Western state of Washington, the northern state of North Dakota, as far west as Tennessee and south to the coast of Texas and everything in between. I found three main emphases in the US:

1.    Adoption of new technologies, such as GMOs, precision farming and marketing tools, is done at a phenomenal rate. What appears as new technology in the UK may take many years to become mainstream, and this is very different from the US. I was also surprised to see that farming methods are repeated farm after farm, with the same cultivations, drilling, fertiliser and agrochemical inputs. Did this show that the farmers were all using the best method for this particular soil type/climate? Of course, the UK is very different. Here neighbouring farms with the same soil type and climate use different farming techniques. This suggests that optimum agronomy is not being adopted by most and best yields are not being achieved

2.    GMO research: There are lessons to be learnt from the US on using GMOs as part of a management tool and these could be implemented, such as essential residual tank mix partner and ‘optimum’ glyphosate rate. And perhaps, controversially, to apply only one year in three to manage resistance (i.e. RRR).After speaking at depth with Monsanto’s research department, reducing agrochemical use is a key driver at the moment. Plants bred with insect resistance (BT), disease resistance and glyphosate resistance have been a focus but they are now also looking at plant root exudates to see (like the bottle brush plant) if they can suppress weed growth around each plant, removing the need for herbicides as well. Could we ‘conventional’ growers produce a crop in the near future with no need for chemical inputs?

3.    Seed weed bank: a lot of research (due to resistance issues) is directed at  managing the weed seed bank, whether looking at bio-fumigants, soil bacteria that ‘attacks’ weed seeds, crop nutrition to provide very early crop competition and cultivations (of which I believe the UK has the lead on the US with lessons learnt about black-grass).

The biggest issues facing the world of resistant weeds is the lack of new chemistry coming to the market place. I had a fantastic presentation given to me at Texas A&M University explaining various issues faced by the industry. However, the point was made that in 20 years there has been no new mode of action bought to market. That isn’t because there aren’t new ones to discover, it’s because it coincides with the invention of glyphosate-resistant crops which took 85% of the market in three years reducing the incentive to fund new herbicide solutions.

There are plenty of things to inwardly digest about the trip to the US and in three weeks’ time I will be travelling to South Africa to see how they are coping with resistance and what they are doing to overcome it. That will be for my next blog.



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