How many workers would be needed to hand weed U.S. crops?

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Have you ever thought about what it would be like if there were no herbicides. The folks at the Crop Protection Research Institute have, and they calculate it would take 70 million workers to hand weed all the commercial crops in the U.S. in a year. CropLife Foundation’s Leonard Gianessi talked about the results of the study and other chemical farming practices in this presentation at the Southern Crop Production Association’s State Affairs Summit in Orlando.

Not only would it take 70 million workers to remove the weeds from crops in the United States, Gianessi notes, but it would take millions more to hand weed crops in China, India, Bangladesh and many other countries around the world at a time when farm workers are being increasingly drawn to higher-paying, less strenuous jobs in the cities.

"That's the value of the technology that we're using in this country," he said. "We're feeding our own population; we're helping to feed the world; and we're doing it with these chemicals that make it possible for us to live our lifestyle and pursue education opportunities and support our industries and everything else we do."

The CropLife Foundation specialist also cited the experience of soybean farmers in Brazil, which now rivals the U.S. with annual production approaching 60 million metric tons of soybeans. After a freeze decimated the coffee bean crop in Brazil in the 1970s, the country's farmers turned to soybeans, a crop that did not require the long-term investment that coffee plantations needed.

Brazil's dreams of building soybeans into a major crop almost were derailed, however, when Asian soybean rust invaded the country in 2001. By 2003, ASR has spread to most of the soybean-producing regions of the country and was causing yield losses of up to 75 percent.

Rather than abandon its efforts, Brazil's farmers turned to fungicides and began spraying them to keep the rust spores at bay. As a result, Brazil's investment in fungicides has risen to the equivalent of $800 million a year. Without those sprays, it's estimated Brazil's soybean production would have been cut in half.

 

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