Long-Term Glyphosate Use Effect on Wheat

Critics of conventional farming often decry the use of herbicides.  Herbicides that are not organic anyway.  That’s all fine and dandy, but the problem I see with the arguments some people present is they contain no substance.  Take a look at this Facebook post on the Kellogg’s Facebook page that I shared to my blog page to get other’s response on.

After seeing this photo posted by someone on the Kellogg's facebook page I had to share myself and point out what's wrong with it.

After seeing this photo posted by someone on the Kellogg’s facebook page I had to share myself and point out what’s wrong with it.

We use glyphosate on our farm.  Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup.  We grow wheat.  I have never seen our wheat germinate as poorly as the right half of that picture shows.  And not over a wide area like a whole field that has a history of Roundup treatments.  There could be any number of factors that contributed to the appearance of that wheat on the right — poor seed-to-soil contact at planting (important to get nutrients, water, etc to the seed), soil compaction (important to alleviate so the cotyledon & root can move through the soil), drought, pests, or a host of other problems.  But I’m positive glyphosate is not the cause.  I am positive based on lots of first-hand experience and education.

Currently there are no glyphosate-tolerant varieties of wheat on the market.  So not only do farmers from all over grow fine wheat crops on soils where Roundup has been applied, the wheat isn’t even resistant to the herbicide in question! Let me explain how wheat and glyphosate both work on my farm.

Let’s say I want to plant a crop that isn’t glyphosate-tolerant, but I want to use it as a burndown treatment (that’s what we do in spring to get rid of weeds and make the field ready for a crop) to knock out weeds that have grown in a field between cash crops.  How long would I have to wait before I plant my crop?  My answer can be found on the Roundup FAQ page.

Annual Weeds: When applying Roundup WeatherMAX® under good growing conditions, seeding may start 4-6 hours later! For all other Roundup brand agricultural herbicides (or under stressful weather conditions), you must wait a minimum of 24 hours before seeding or working the land.

Perennial Weeds: With all Roundup brand agricultural herbicides we recommend that you wait 72 hours under good growing conditions before seeding or tillage. If it’s cool and cloudy wait an extra day before tillage so the herbicide has sufficient time to translocate to the roots of the weed.

There are significant amounts of research and development that goes into these label directions and although those are from an FAQ, they restate what is on the label. A label that is registered with the EPA and the USDA.

Don’t you think wheat farmers all over the United states would be pretty vocal if such a problem existed, or at least quit planting wheat in fields where glyphosate has been used to control weeds in the past?

A photo from June 2012 of our wheat and corn in adjacent fields.  The wheat has changed color because it's nearly mature and ready for harvest.

A photo from June 2012 of our wheat and corn in adjacent fields.

We plant wheat and corn side-by-side at times, just like the photo above shows we did in 2012. This soil probably receives a glyphosate treatment at least once a year depending on the crop. The wheat has changed color because it’s nearly mature and ready for harvest.

Now I suppose you have no reason to believe what I say anymore than that Facebook photo.  But I do hope I’ve been able to build a level of trust on this page by being honest and trying to show you why we use certain agronomic practices on our land. We have a lot of things to consider, even worry about, as we grow crops but the long-term effects of glyphosate is one I feel very comfortable with.

It would be easy to mislead people who may not know a lot about farming practices. And these well-meaning people could get worked up enough to share it with other people wanting to help a farmer like me out. I just hope they are also willing to listen to someone with first-hand experience too.

What do you think about the photo I shared?  Leave a comment below and let’s discuss!

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  1. Great post Brian…I have mentioned in the past there are Opinions of Intellect (can be swayed by logical argument) and Opinions of Emotion (no opportunity to change).

    This seems to be quite an emotional topic. Presenting a logical argument is the right path and may be frustrating.

    Thanks for growing my food!

  2. It is my understanding that glyphosate is an emergent herbicide, killing only weeds that have already spouted. Are weeds that sprout after you have planted your crop a problem? If so, what do you do about that? Lou

    1. You are correct. Glyphosate is a contact killer that offers no residuals effects on weeds that appear after application. A standard practice on farms like mine would be to come in with a glyphosate and 2,4-D mix pre-plant to knock out weeds that emerged in early spring. Depending on weed pressure we will make one or two more applications of herbicide during the growing season. Getting your cash crop to the canopy stage greatly reduces weed pressure because the crop is now capturing most of the sunlight. Canopy is when the space between rows is filled by the plants as they grow larger.

      Many weeds will germinate all season long, not just in spring. Weed seeds can lay dormant in soil for years at a time.

      1. If it is a contact Killer and it breaks down so completely. HOW is it destroying your crops?? Also Wheat is NOT ROUNDUP READY via GMO. It has very strict Guidelines when used on wheat. I bet you did not follow those guidelines. They warn USE is at YOUR OWN RISK. Because WHEAT have never been GMO.

        1. We’ve never used Roundup on wheat. I think it some areas it sometimes is used to bring the crop to a harvest state, but not around here.

          You ask how it’s destroying my crops? It’s not. That’s what this post was about.

  3. Good explanation. I wish the normal population would give farmer’s more credit on their decisions. Why would farmers want to produce a crop that isn’t safe? No reason I can think of.
    Same issues with livestock production. Why would a farmer mistreat an animal when you have invested a great deal of time and money to produce a healthy animal? Lots of Emotional Opinions as D. Scott said above.

  4. Not having any information about the two photos of wheat (even if they are from the same season), I would say the photo on the right looks more like cold damage or winter kill, as evidenced by the dessicated appearance of the plants, than emergence or glyphosate damage. The only glyphosate damage I have seen on wheat is stunting and leaf lesions caused by drift when nearby fields were burned down during windy conditions for no-till corn planting in the spring.

  5. Sadly it looks like the Facebook thread is gone. Since it was a re-share on Kellog’s page that is also deleted, it looks like the re-shared post with conversation is deleted too. :( That was a really good conversation too. Some good references in there I wish I could get to.

  6. Brian, This is an awesome post! We grow wheat for rotation behind our cotton every two to three years. We have only seen wheat like the photo on the right when we are in a drought. It is my understanding that Glyphosate actually neutralizes when it hits dust. We have seen this first hand when we try to spray and it has been too long between rains. There will be too much dust on the weeds and they won’t die. Of course, they are already harder to kill during a drought situation anyway. Once the glyphosate has neutralized, I also understand that it literally goes inert. Once something has gone inert, and you go back to 9th grade chemistry, an inert product will never again react with anything. That’s the information we use on our cotton farms and have always had excellent results with glyphosate no matter the situation.

  7. “Don’t you think wheat farmers all over the United states would be pretty vocal if such a problem existed, or at least quit planting wheat in fields where glyphosate has been used to control weeds in the past?” Exacly what I say, thanks Brian,good post.

    1. I think that idea seems to be left out of a lot of conversations. Just the simple fact that a lot of people or doing X doesn’t mean it’s right, but it’s worth taking a deeper look don’t you think? Here’s a post hot off the press where a consumer spent a great deal of time talking to farmers, and one of them was me.


  8. Great post Brian and excellent photos. It not only proves the point it is absolutely beautiful. Thanks.

  9. I think the issue is: what are the long term effects, and under what conditions. Surely all fields look like your photos in the early years, or, as you say, the product would not be used. But then, is there a point, varying in some way in the number of years, where the negative effects become visible. I would expect that such negative affects would at first be seen in only a small number of cases. I see that the article includes 23 references from what look to be peer reviewed sources, and you haven’t addressed that. There is also a logic in their arguments that you have not addressed. They say that Glyphosate “doesn’t usually destroy weeds directly,” but rather is “a broad-spectrum chelator” that “binds with nutrients, depriving plants of the minerals needed to help them defend against disease.” This then suggests a logic in which Glyphosate attacks the ability of plants to absorb nutrients. And does that then apply to, for example, soil microbes, fostering leaching? (I’m glad to find this article, as a farmer mentioned some of this to me, but I hadn’t found online sources.) Dan Huber (in several sources) is on YouTube and seems to focus on farm self interests. He raised these issues in a letter to Vilsack or someone a few years ago. Surely to keep buying the same fertilizer (at higher costs) but then get less bang for the buck would be disastrous for farmers (or to buy more and more to get the same results, etc.).

    So, have all of the readers here read the label to RoundUp, as we’re often told to do? Last time I read it, it was 130 pages of tiny print, in an obnoxious red font, and I certainly agree that it’s very well researched in terms of issues that Monsanto knows about (but do farmers), and legally. So if the research proves true, will Monsanto be liable for farmers who’s soil has lost the ability to hold on to fertilizer (if that’s a key issue, as I’ve heard?). Or has that already been thoroughly dealt with (disclaimed) on the label.

    I think my biggest worry is that the technology is a “megatechnics,” (Lewis Mumford) which, by nature, is authoritarian, a system that has made farmers increasingly dependent upon a powerful industrial-complex. Meanwhile, Monsanto seems to be, by far, (ie. 2009) the greatest spender of political influence money of any corp. in the input-complex. (more than 4 x bigger than the second runner up). For me, that issue comes first, leading then to the issues of the cost of production, as in the issues discussed here.

    1. Hopefully I can address some of your points, Brad.

      My photo is not from the early years. That photo of a healthy wheat crop comes from a field that sees an application of glyphosate at least once per year. Glyphosate is a contact killer, meaning is has no residual herbicidal effect in the soil on plants that have yet to emerge. It’s got to hit green tissue to be effective.

      The chelation issue has to do with the possibility that glyphosate, after being processed by a corn plant especially, may have some effect of binding nutrients in the soil. I think the jury is still out on this topic. From a practical farmer perspective US farms continually grow more grain with less inputs year after year. Not only is that environmentally responsible, but it’s also good for the farmer’s pocketbook.

      Dr. Huber has become a controversial figure since writing that letter. I would say his thoughts are worth noting, but after reading responses from his own colleagues at my alma mater Purdue, and many other scientific sources, I would say his claims are questionable. Biofortified has a great post on this called “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” I wrote a post with my personal thoughts as well when the letter came out. Purdue’s response can be found here.

      Labels for all pesticides are generally very long. Why is this? Well for one thing there are many uses for the same product and that product won’t be used the same way in all situations. A chemical that can be used on more than one crop will have a set of instructions for each crop. There will be instructions for spraying with a pump up sprayer around your house to covering hundreds of acres on a farm. Tank mixes with another herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, or fertilizer or combination thereof would require yet another set of instructions for proper and safe use. Long story short, the reason there isn’t much new chemistry in recent decades is because it takes a great deal of money and time to put the work in to make that label and cover all your bases. You never know what someone might do, so the explanation of proper use is by nature, exhaustive. For example when I worked at a job in town we kept the store looking good from the outside by killing weeds around the building. My co-worker went out one night with a hand sprayer to treat weeds behind the building. Instead of reading the label and putting in a few ounces per gallon of water he put a whole quart of Roundup in a 2 gallon sprayer and filled the rest with diesel fuel. Let me tell you those weeds died. In fact, they turned black by the next day. But that was an excessively expensive mix of stuff, and you certainly couldn’t find it on any label.

    2. Perhaps read and write less, comprehend more. You’re getting your issues all pretzeled up. The use of glyphosate has nothing to do with fertilizers, for instance.

    3. Our farm adopted no-till practices decades earlier than most, but you have to offset that conservation practice with some burndown method. Glyphosate has a lower half-life in the soil than most, breaking down the acidic salt of the active ingedient in a matter of months. By the time the crop is harvested, our pre-plant application is long gone. Heck, it is gone by the time WINTER comes. It is so much more important to prevent topsoil erosion and increase organic matter in the soil. Practices like this are why the recent years of drought did not result in depleted soil and dustbowl conditions.

  10. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be almost comical. I would have thought a firm like Kellogg’s would know better than to scaremonger in this way.

    1. It’s not a post by Kellogg’s, but rather a something posted by an individual on their page. That page has seen a lot of similar posts since some people thought they were poorly representing the Kashi brand of cereal as natural. Kashi was never organic to my knowledge, but some thought their ads were misleading.

  11. Oh, and regarding soil microbes: I am looking forward to more research in this area. After all, for the plant, it is “all about the exudates.” I have heard some wild claims about microbial population damage, but so far I can only find studies with evidence of null effect or increased benificial (decreased overall) microbial populations. That makes some of the claims seem uninformed at best, spurious at worst.

  12. I just received an email from CREDO action to petition EPA and FDA to ban Roundup because of glyphosate:

    “In case you weren’t sure yet if the massive use of the herbicide glyphosate – also known as Monsanto’s Roundup – was cause for concern, here’s the sobering takeaway from an MIT senior researcher who just conducted a review of the stuff:

    “I’m certain at this point that glyphosate is the most important factor in an alarming number of epidemic diseases.”1

    The introduction of Roundup in 1973 has corresponded with a rise in conditions including celiac disease (gluten intolerance), autism, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s and others.2″

    As a farmer, what do you think about this? I don’t know and I would like the opinion of someone who has worked with it long term and get their take.

    1. Hi, Jeffrey. Thanks for stopping by. You can get a good idea of my opinion on glyphosate from this blog post you just read. We’ve been raising Roundup Ready crops for almost twenty years now, and it’s still a valuable tool on our farm.

      As far as the MIT senior researcher goes, I’d encourage you to look deeper into the “study” performed by Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel. It was published in the journal Entropy which I understand has a very low or even no impact score with impact being a factor in the worth of a journal. Also this wasn’t so much a study as much as a computer program searching through other papers on the topic. I put together a bundle of seven links that you can review for yourself. Here’s the link https://bitly.com/bundles/thefarmerslife/6

      An important phrase to remember is that correlation does not equal causation. Just because glyphosate use has increased since 1973 doesn’t mean it relates to an increase in all those diseases. Someone has even made a sarcastic chart to prove this point by showing the rise in organic food sales trending very closely with a rise in autism. I’ve seen another that relates the decline in the number of people who are pirates to the rise in global temperatures claiming the solution to global warming is for everyone to be a pirate. Be cautious of falling for an “if this, then that” mentality, but so goes the internet.

      1. You can’t just say ‘correlation does not equal causation’ as an excuse to ignore anything you don’t want to believe.

        Correlation does not necessarily equal causation but causes and contributing factors will usually correlate. And given the exponential growth of multiple novel and rare diseases SOMETHING must be causing it.

        And it just so happens the Seneff documents the biological pathways by which Roundup could be contributing this and also how the Autism symptoms could all be fairly described as symptoms of Roundup exposure.

        So it just makes sense the Roundup is implicated.

        Now I completely understand if you don’t want to accept the fact you’re poisoning your friends and neighbors with your farming practices. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

        1. Wow Adam, that’s quite a leap. Correlations and causation can happen together, I’m with you there. That’s where science can start. We can look at simultaneous trends and then make good decisions about realistic associations.

          First, there is absolutely no mechanistic way that glyphosate can cause these diseases. It is a simple molecule with known pharmacology. Furthermore, you’d have to ingest it in biologically relevant amounts, and that just is not possible. Worst case scenario there are parts per million residual on beans, and after processing into oil, tofu, whatever… you’d be hard pressed to find any.

          And if that association was real- it would be easily testable. Nobody has been able to demonstrate any evidence consistent with that interpretation.

          If anyone was poisoning friends and neighbors was true, it would be known in no time.

          And ten years ago you’d be telling us that autism was caused by vaccinations. Sadly, that distraction cost valuable time and money that could have been funneled to a cure.

        2. Adam, I agree with what Kevin said in his reply. Sure two or more things might seem to go together, and that warrants further investigation. But it doesn’t mean the first hunch that A + B = C will always be true once testing is done. As you say “given the exponential growth of multiple novel and rare diseases SOMETHING must be causing it,” but why does it have to be something? Isn’t it possible it could be somethings? Or would it be feasible that the same thing or things are causing these conditions in the same ways they always have, but we only recently have the medical know how to more properly detect than we did say a generation ago? Some people are so fixated on glyphosate being the single cause of all these problems, but as Dr. Folta stated it doesn’t add up.

  13. The main issue I have with glysophate and the widespread use of all herbicides and pesticides on all crops (not just wheat) is that we are daily ingesting toxins from almost everything we eat. The FDA may state that the amount is minuscule and therefore not harmful, but clearly the cumulative effect is. As Jeffrey Mead (above post) says, the introduction of Roundup into the food chain corresponds closely with the meteoric increase of most non-communicable diseases in North America. It’s true that correlation does not mean causation, but since the major change in our society since the early seventies has been how our food has been mass produced and altered, and how the environment has been polluted, it stands to reason that they are NOT unrelated.

    North Americans are currently being overfed and undernourished, have increasingly weak immune systems, cannot clear the toxic overloads from their body, and as a result are falling victim to the numerous diseases of our time in alarming numbers. Meanwhile, most money raised to find cures, goes to trying to develop new drugs instead of looking at what the causes are.

    Is the total cause RoundUp ready, widespread glysophate use in farming? NO. But it is a big part of the overall problem. Glysophate is now showing up in mother’s breast milk! That should tell us something.

    Back in the day, the tobacco industry said there was no PROOF the poisons in cigarettes caused cancer, the makers of DDT touted the benefits of its widespread use and downplayed any negative effects on humans, asbestos manufacturers said their product was safe and would save money for consumers by cutting down on heating costs, PCBs were studied to death and declared safe. The list goes on.

    So, declaring that herbicides are safe for use on human food is shortsighted and dangerous. Just because the ill effects don’t show up immediately doesn’t mean it is safe… see the above list and how long it took before the health disasters created became clearly evident. If the insects and birds won’t eat the seeds and plants treated with Roundup, that should be our first clue that WE should not be eating it!

    1. What about all the Bt toxins and herbicides, fungicides, etc that are used in organic farming? Where did you get the idea that ‘Americans have increasingly weak immune systems’ or that they can’t ‘clear toxins from their body’ ? Neither of these things are true and have no basis in medical research. There is also no credible evidence that women should be concerned about the safety of their breast milk; “Moms Across America” is not making any headlines with their bogus research. And wait, I thought insects DO eat Roundup which has been blamed for the decline in butterflies, bees, etc? I guess someone is confused, especially when declaring PCB’s were declared safe. I mean how much stuff are you going to just make up???? The ‘health disasters created’ are not ‘evident’ at all. In fact where in earth is ANY of your evidence that supports a single thing you claim??? People are living longer, with less disease and better health. Did you know RoundUp replaced even more toxic herbicides? TRUE!

  14. Hello Brian, I really appreciate your willingness to host this conversation. Could you comment on the trust worthiness of Monsanto? Aren’t they the company that was bankrupting farmers years ago by claiming farmers had to pay Monsanto for seed that was somehow showing up on farmer’s land even though the farmers in question could prove that they had purchased seed elsewhere and hadn’t planted Monsanto crops? I don’t necessarily believe what I see on TV but my sister, a former cattle rancher, sent me some documentary that was absolutely appalling (if true) and very uncomplimentary of Monsanto.
    Additionally, living in Seattle I am surrounded by people who are moving to gluten free diets because of health issues that seem to disappear once they cut out gluten. From what I’ve read, gluten intolerance is something very different and the chances that any of my friends are actually gluten intolerant is almost zero. But there must be something else in play. The health issues are a wide variety across many of my friends so I don’t see anything that is a common issue. Its just so strange.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cari. I’m not going to pretend to know everything Monsanto has done in the history of the company. What I do know from having a lot of discussions over the last few years is as far as I can tell Monsanto hasn’t sued anyone for accidental pollination or for seed accidentally showing up on a farmer’s land. The ones who have been taken to court have intentionally violated some part of the technology use agreement. I’ve got several posts on the topic if you use the search function of this blog to look up Monsanto, etc. In one post I’ve scanned a copy of my 2011 tech use agreement for anyone to read.

      One you gluten question I tend to wonder one thing. Did they change anything else about their diet or lifestyle? Sometimes I wonder if people are just eating better in general and/or exercising where they were not before, and they come to the conclusion that X was making them feel less healthy in the past. I also think about whether their is really more gluten intolerance, cancer, autism, concussions, and more, or are we just advancing medical technology and knowledge over time so that we are better able to detect these things that may have gone on without diagnoses in that past? I think the trend today among some of the most outspoken people on many issues is to relate all maladies to one source that fits into a narrative of not liking something because that’s the current cool thing not to like. To me that just doesn’t make sense to blame such a range of issues on a single thing like wheat for instance.

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