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Was resistance inevitable? Part II
Dr. Victor Martin

The Drought Monitor shows thing essentially unchanged from the previous week. This doesn’t include any moisture received after last Tuesday. This is good news for the immediate area although much of Stafford County remains abnormally dry. February is less than two weeks away so and as day length increases and temperatures start to warm, soil moisture is key for the start of spring growth. Last week we briefly discussed how pesticide resistance occurs when not used properly. Today, how did we get into this situation and are there success stories in avoiding pesticide resistance.

• First, we really didn’t know any better and well understand the mechanisms involved. Add in the fact we had very few options 50 years ago for pest management. And finally, factor in the optimism that something like DDT was a miracle that would lead to a pest few society, eliminate diseases and save food/possessions. We thought we were in a Golden age where chemistry would create a utopia. Plus the first pesticides seemed to work incredibly well. It wasn’t until the 1960s and Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” that we started to understand something was wrong.

• Second, there weren’t many other options early on for insect and weed control. We could cultivate and burn but genetic engineering wasn’t even on the map and conventional breeding for pest resistance was in its infancy. Add in the pressure to increase food production for an ever expanding population.  

• As we started to notice and understand the ecological ramifications of pesticide misuse and pest resistance, we did indeed start to focus on two things. Integrated pest management and varying modes of action to prevent resistance. By the mid-1980s we grasped how resistance occurred and what we needed to do. Then genetic engineering came on the scene.

• Roundup Ready crops were an example of a failure. Science knew relying on a single chemistry could lead to resistance issue and many in extension and the USD cautioned about the dangers and the need for a more integrated herbicide approach. But Roundup was the cheapest option and worked well initially. It was only after problems started to appear that recommendations were heeded.

• Bt for control of corn borer is an example of a success story. It was required that a refuge of non-Bt corn be in every field to insure the genetics for susceptibility remained in the population and it was enforced. They also worked diligently to insure new and improved Bt technology to further prevent resistance. Over 20 years later, this is still working.

• Another success is the adoption of a holistic approach stressing different modes of action, crop rotation, sanitation, and other cultural practices along with improved breeding.

Next week, where do we go from here.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.