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Glyphosate Herbicide (Roundup)
by Malcolm Beck,
the Father of Organic Gardening in Texas and
the originator of Gardenville Products.
for more common-sense organics from Malcolm

I wrote a letter (Does Nature Approve) to HRM members and it was printed in the Summer 2001 newsletter and Acres USA. However, my student and partner in organic promotion, Howard Garrett, does not agree with this approach.

Making the statement that," Nature could approve of glyphosate if used properly in some conditions" resulted from many years of studying. I grew up on a farm, worked on many neighboring farms and owned two farms of my own that were all overrun with Johnson grass. Years ago it was controlled by hoeing behind the cultivators, I controlled it on my own farm by hoeing. However, when the INS took my labor away I found no one in this country that you could pay enough to hoe, or even knew how. We cleared the first acreage I used for veining type vegetables of Johnson grass with the hoe. In 1975 when I wanted to expand ten more acres I tried to plow the Johnson grass to death but all I did was plow the soil to death. The Johnson grass is still there; the excess tilling destroyed the soil and a lot of the soil life. All the organic matter I built into the soil the previous seven years is now CO2 in the air along with my engine exhaust. I never did expand my vegetable acreage.

Since that time I have done a lot of thinking, I got a whole different look at organic and modern agriculture. I have spent a lot of time researching and talking to big farmers. Modern agriculture methods have got Planet Earth headed down a self-destructive path. We don't have time to change all agriculture to organic. But, agriculture has to change NOW to a more sustainable method. We have to teach everyone how Nature operates. And what Nature does and doesn't approve of. At times we may have to choose the lesser of two evils. I don't think Howard has worked on a farm enough to understand all farm problems. But, Howard is good at what he does and I hope he keeps doing it. However, there is a big gulf between the organic promoters and land grant universities that teach conventional agriculture. Someone, somehow, has to build a bridge.

Even the organic farmers that apply compost, manure or any organic material to their land are not gaining all they could if they keep plowing, cultivating and disturbing the soil. They waste the carbon right back to the air and pollute the atmosphere.

The National Organic standards has thousands pages of telling the farmers what they can't do, little of what they should do, however nothing has yet been done, it has been almost 10 years in the making and still not completed. I doubt if it has converted a single farmer. The books Howard and I wrote have accomplished way more, with much less expense, in a lot shorter time.

I am dead against any type of GMO's at any time. GMO's have made it easier to use herbicides. But there are plenty no-till farmers that don't use GMO seed. If herbicides were used properly. no-till could mean using less and eventually none. Lavoid Laurie, the organic cotton farmer west of Lubbock operates his farm no-till, however before he became organic he used Treflan (a herbicide more toxic than glyphosate) to clean up the weeds.

Dr. Joe Bradford a USDA no-till researcher tells me that no-till farmers can see a ninety percent decrease in weeds by the fourth year after going no-till. This shows that if farmers wanted to they could cut the use of herbicides with no-till methods because they are not plowing new seeds under or old seeds up each year.

Before Roundup Ready corn and cotton farmers were already using plenty of herbicide. No-till doesn't mean you have to use more. I have a friend with a large peanut farm in Georgia that operates no-till. He tells me since he went no-till his production is up and expenses are down. The lake his farmland drains into is no longer muddy and his herbicides needs are way down. The low organic content, un-mulched and lifeless soil of most conventional tillage farms allows the herbicides to stay in the soil much longer; the soil life isn't there to degrade it. It soon leached deep into the soil or runs off with the first big rain to pollute streams and lakes.

No-till farming keeps the above ground portion of all plants on the soil surface where Nature intended. It protects the soil from the drying sun and wind. Stops the small crop plants from being sand blasted that many times requires re planting. The mulch keeps the soil a more even temperature, and prevents water runoff. The mulch creates a composting activity at the soil contact point where the microbial activity is high and can de-grade toxic chemicals.

I had a $3,000 test done at Trinity University by Dr. Rex Moyer to see if our compost had anything harmful to man, plant or animal. Moyer's test found nothing harmful. Instead, Moyer found 18 percent of the microbes he isolated to be well known microbes that are used by industry to degrade toxic materials. Another 28 percent of the isolated he found were microbes that control troublesome insects.

There are some major problems facing mankind today. Soil erosion, water shortages, too much CO2 in the atmosphere and nitrate pollution in ground water, rivers and lakes. Over 6,000 sq. miles of the Gulf is dead because of fertilizers washing off farmland.

No-till farming could help solve all of these problems. Dr. Bradford is seeing the farmland under no-till go up in organic matter near 1 tenth of 1 percent each year. Conventional tillage has destroyed the prairie. Most all our farmland is down to 20 percent or less of the organic matter it could be. Constantly disturbing the soil oxidizes the soil carbon and it dissipates to the air as carbon dioxide.

I believe there is a lot of land that should not be farmed at all or farmed differently. For example, I visited some big farmers up in the panhandle of Texas that admitted to pumping the Ogallala aquifer dry to grow corn that has no market but, they survive and make a living off government support while growing GMO corn.

Our problems are with government policies and lack of someone educating farmers on how to work with Nature. The government should be teaching and paying farmers to build soil organic content, which is the prerequisite of getting free from chemical dependence. Our problems are not with using products but not understanding why they have become necessary.

I do not promote glyphosate. I dislike it as much as any man made chemical. But I do promote no-till. So far I have found no way to get farmers to give up the plow without using some herbicide at least for a while until he can eliminate perennial and rhizome type weeds. We have to stop plowing the soil to death. The soil gives birth to all life. The quality of the soil determines the quality of our air, our water and our food. Nature never plows. Plowing destroys soil life and soil quality. As the quality of the soil goes the life it supports goes.

Farmers have to have some method of weed control. Hoeing would be perfect, look at all the good exercise, fresh air and closeness with nature but, you will no longer get people in this country to hoe at any wage. Hoeing could be a great job for all the people in our many prisons. But that would probably be considered in humane.

Glyphosate is the least toxic of the herbicides mentioned in the Adobe file. Dr. Elaine Ingham tells me, "there is a bacteria in the soil that loves it and eats it up." No-Till creates conditions and furnishes the energy and environment for those bacteria to flourish.

Dr. Don Marks, world wide known expert on Mycorrhizae, said the plow destroys the host weed and the mycorrhizal fungi before it gets a chance to spore, with herbicide the host plant stops sending carbohydrates before it dies signaling the fungi to quickly spore. The plow is a bigger enemy to the mycorrhizae then glyphosate.

Drifts can be prevented if used with the no drift products on the market and correct atmospheric conditions, such as, in the evening when the air is cooling. Also, if farmers would add one ounce of feed molasses to his herbicide mix it would stick better, help stop drifting and furnish the microbes a good energy source so they can quicker detoxify the product.

I stick with my statement," Nature could approve of glyphosate if used properly in some conditions."

Malcolm Beck


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