One drawback in this scenario, Gianessi says, “Because of the high cost involved, I don’t think we’ll see a lot of new materials for specialty crops. For example, there hasn’t been a new herbicide for carrots in many years. Crops like that will suffer. But the big crops — soybeans, sugarbeets, canola, maize, cotton — will continue to see new, more effective products.

“And grower groups have learned what they have to do to get and keep registrations. Even before soybean rust ever appeared in this country, soybean growers had about a dozen emergency exemption requests for fungicides to use against that disease.

“So long as we’ve got strong agricultural organizations in the U.S. — and the major crops have those organizations — I think we’ll be OK in terms of new technologies for those crops. Politically, it’s going to be up to ag communicators to make sure the public understands how critically important these technologies are and what we would face without them.”

What about the adoption of pesticides and GMOs in developing countries, where crop yields are low and the need for additional production is great?

Right now, there is a significant adoption of GMOs in a number of countries — India, for example, in cotton production, and in China. The Chinese will do whatever they have to do to feed their people.

“The real crime with GMOs is in sub-Saharan Africa, in countries that are former colonies of European nations, which have very negative opinions of GMOs. European countries won’t support any research in Africa on GMOs. They have tremendous influence over regulatory agencies there, so you can’t get approval for GMO maize.

“A lot of this is driven by the fears in Europe about GMOs,” Gianessi says. “The Norwegians, for example, give Malawi large amounts of money each year for agricultural research, but they won’t even talk about using herbicides. Their vision of what Africa should be is not chemicals, not GMOs; they’re using their money to drive anti-GMO/anti-herbicide research.

“For the last 30 years, scientists at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture have received funding by USAID, by the Norwegians, and others, and that money has been conditional on not using herbicides. They’ve got excellent weed scientists who’ve been researching all manner of non-herbicide techniques for 30 years — and it’s been a waste of 30 years. They don’t have anything to show for it.

“It’s all being driven by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and activist groups that put pressure on organizations like the World Bank . They say, ‘Don’t fund anything that has to do with pesticides and GMOs.’”

But can farmers in subsistence countries afford these technologies?

“One of the reason they are subsistence farmers,” Gianessi says, “is because they’ve never been able to achieve yields high enough to do anything other try and feed themselves.

“Rice is being imported now into sub-Saharan Africa. They could grow the crop productively there if they adopted these technologies. The cost of growing crops with herbicides is one-third that of labor for hand weeding, the bulk of it done by women and children. Herbicides are an inexpensive, effective tool for increasing yields and freeing up labor.