The New York Times writer Mark Bittman writes glowingly about a recent study that reported on an Iowa experiment in which crop yields were maintained while herbicides to control weed populations were reduced. Bittman concludes that, “there was only upside – and no downside
at all” in this study. Rhetorically, Bittman asks, “Why wouldn?t a farmer go this route?” That question was studied by rural sociologists from the University of Missouri and their findings show that it is not so simple to reduce herbicide use – there are serious downsides.
The study that Bittman cites reduced herbicide use by switching from spraying the entire field (broadcast spraying) to spraying just down the row of plants (banded spraying) and using cultivation to kill weeds between the rows. This technique of “banding” the herbicide spray in
combination with tillage was widely-used several decades ago, but farmers changed to spraying the entire field without the need to cultivate. The sociologists asked farmers why they abandoned the practice and if they would consider using it again. The answers were a firm no.