The Rise of the Frankenweed

When Frankencrops Become Frankenweeds

James A Tassano

24 April 2015


In reading the January-March 2015 issue of Weed Technology, one article really struck me: “Control of Volunteer Glyphosate-Resistant Canola in Glyphosate-Resistant Sugar Beet” by Vipan Kumar and Prashant Jha, of Montana State University-Bozeman. They report that Monsanto’s genetically modified Roundup Ready® canola is a major weed species in Roundup Ready® sugar beet plantings. Monsanto created both genotypes, and now these corporate crops are at war with each other for space in farmer’s fields.

In the Northern Great Plains, canola is often grown in rotation with sugar beets, cereal, or soybeans. Canola prolifically drops seed during harvest, producing from 3000 as 7500 seeds per square meter. A weed is ‘a plant out of place’, and when you are trying to grow sugar beets, canola is a weed, and like a weed, these volunteer canola plants are reducing sugar beet yield.

The reason for planting Roundup-Ready® cultivars is to cut the expenses related to weed control. But now, the farmer has a weed that is just as resistant to glyphosate as his Roundup Ready® crop. The farmers cannot ignore it. If left untreated, the canola weeds can reduce sucrose yields by 50-53%. What is the poor farmer to do?

Use more herbicides of course! The authors recommend the use of the maximum label rate of a pre-germination herbicide, followed by herbicide applications applied after germination. Although Kumar and Jha did not present a comparison analysis of weed control costs, we can be sure that the cost advantages of using genetically modified, herbicide-resistant crops, is taking a big hit.

This is far from a unique issue. Kumar and Jha cite numerous studies of competition between other Roundup Ready® crops in America’s farmlands, resulting in increased weed control costs. They also discuss the real potential that these Roundup Ready® canola plants will hybridize, by way of their pollen, to related plants and to non-genetically modified canola.

The issue of frankenweeds has been known for years (1)  (2) (3) . We have here a clear discussion of how GMO, Roundup-Ready crops, growing out of sequence, are the main weeds in other GMO, Roundup-Ready crops. So what is the point of using Roundup-Ready crops when they become the main weeds, forcing the use of additional herbicides?