Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pigweed for Everyone

The New York Times today has an article on the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds. Those who are familiar with the issue of the evolution of resistant pest species won't find too much additional information in the article, although it does point out some evidence that despite Monsanto's claims that the problem is manageable, they apparently are concerned enough to subsidize certain farmers' purchases of other herbicides to target resistant weeds.

On a whim, I looked up one spectacular-sounding weed highlighted in the article. According to the article, Pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri) "can grow three inches a day and reach seven feet or more, choking out crops; it is so sturdy that it can damage harvesting equipment. In an attempt to kill the pest before it becomes that big, Mr. Anderson and his neighbors are plowing their fields and mixing herbicides into the soil."

It turns out that this terrifying giant pigweed actually isn't so evil, and maybe even its resistance to glyphosate could be a benefit.
Pigweed was in fact once widely cultivated and eaten by Native Americans, and much like other amaranths, valued for the high nutritious value of its seeds and greens.  It is also, as one would expect from a weed, pretty vigorous and drought-tolerant (and apparently already has Roundup-resistance built in). My proposal: Start cultivating and improving pigweed now -- but call it something different.

Link to NY Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/business/energy-environment/04weed.html
Link to Wikipedia article on pigweed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranthus_palmeri

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