New Herbicide Mode of Action Discoveries May Come from Startup Chemical Companies

For years, no-tillers have heard there are only a few new herbicide chemistries or modes of action on the horizon to help control the ever-troublesome weed issues. Yet recent information shared by a western Australia weed scientist sheds new light on future weed control options.

Stephen Powles, a long-time no-till advocate and weed scientist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, says a major concern today is that only five global corporations operate extensive herbicide discovery programs: BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta.

Industry Consolidation Hurt

Back in 1975, Powles (a No-Till Farmer Legend) says 19 U.S. and European companies were investing in large-scale herbicide discovery programs. These companies employed hundreds of chemists and carried out thousands of herbicide discovery trials annually. Meanwhile, numerous universities and other public-sector research organizations carried out similar trials.

From 1970 to 1990, Powles says dozens of new herbicides were discovered — and became widely adopted — throughout the world. Better weed control allowed many crops to dramatically boost their yield potential.

Yet since 1989, only a single differentiating new herbicide mode of action was developed. Industry consolidation and the increasing cost of finding new formulations has slowed down the new chemistry research.

Another reason behind the decline in new herbicide discoveries has been the introduction of crops genetically engineered to tolerate herbicides. This started in 1996 with the commercialization of Roundup Ready soybeans, which led to a dramatic expansion in the number of global no-tilled acres.

A speaker at one of our earlier…

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