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Huber calls for different approach to weed control

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 10/14/2013 3:26 PM

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STEWARTVILLE, Minn. – Don Huber advised moderation in all things, including herbicide use, at a recent field day.

Huber, a Purdue University plant pathology professor emeritus, spoke Sept. 17 at the second annual FHR Field Day held near Stewartville.

He said farmers need to change their approach and their attitude about weed control. They have to have variety, Huber said. Farmers can no longer use just one product for weed control and assume everything will be fine.

Instead, farmers are putting themselves more at risk than ever by relying on a single gene and the glyphosate weed control strategy.

Relying on a single gene has proven to be a poor choice before, Huber said. In 1970-71, the southern corn leaf blight epidemics caused catastrophic crop losses. In 1970, about 85 percent of U.S. corn fields were planted with one type of corn, called Texas cytoplasmic male sterile. The gene proved highly susceptible to the pathogen.

Now, more than 40 years later, 100 percent of the sugar beets and cotton raised in the United States are Roundup Ready varieties, he said. Ninety-eight percent of the soybeans and canola and 85 percent of the corn are Roundup Ready.

Huber recently was in Brazil, where he found that 37 percent of the production is non-GMO. That number is expected to increase because of demand.

Brazilian farm fields are not unlike U.S. fields, where farmers are applying three to four herbicide cocktails at higher rates in order to kill weeds, he said. Farmers have fewer herbicide choices because glyphosate took so much market share.

"We are at a turning point. We are at a point where we have to change," Huber said.

In an article he authored in response to a pro-GMO article, Huber said that genetically engineered products and glyphosate are severely toxic to human and animal tissues.

"All the benefits claimed for GMO crops are failed promises, and the abundance of weeds and insects resistant to GE plants or the products they were engineered to tolerate have seriously complicated our ability to control these pests, while greatly increasing the amount of toxic chemicals in our food," Huber writes.

At the same time, Huber contends that yields have decreased because of GMO use. He said GMOs disrupt the integrity of the genetic code.

Non-GMO corn could reach yields of more than 500 bushels to the acre, Huber said. Illinois farmer Herman Warsaw produced 370 bushel corn on a one-acre plot in 1985. From 1975 to 1989, he had a 15-year average of 274 bushels per acre.

Amie Bandy, a crop adviser who spoke at the meeting, agreed with Huber and added that 200 bushel soybeans are possible.

Micro-nutrients are the key, Huber said. It's the catalyst that makes the enzymes work; the key that turns on the engine.

Pay attention to the weeds in the field, Huber said.

Because they reveal what micro-nutrients are in the soil, Bandy added.

She challenged the roughly 50 people in attendance to get back to their fields and start looking.

Bandy and Huber also talked about a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to raise glyphosate residue levels in oilseed crops from 20 parts per million to 40 ppm effective May 1. The change also affects animal feed, root crops and fruit trees.

That's worrisome because farmers sign a document that they assume all current and future liabilities that may occur as a result of using GMO seed, Huber said.

"The increase in residue limits will exacerbate an already epidemic of human and animal health issues and marginalize the marketability of our crop production in the global market," he wrote in a letter asking the EPA to lower glyphosate residue limits in feed and food.

Huber says the dramatic increase in gut-related diseases such as Crohn's, Celiac, leaky gut and chronic fatigue are directly correlated with GMO proteins and the glyphosate residues found in food and feed.

It's difficult to publish anything that points out the collateral damage from glyphosate use, he said.

Huber said he is glad to see the growing awareness of the importance and quality of food.

"When you change the diet, you change the health," he said.