Chemical Development for Weed Control: Agrochemicals to Combat Herbicide Resistance

chemical development
Herbicide-resistant weeds are presenting a growing problem to farms. What considerations do agrochemical companies have to take into account to deal with the issue?
Image source: Flickr CC user Chafer Machinery

It looks like the global agricultural industry has a weed control problem. More specifically, it has run into the same difficulties that hospitals and medical professionals currently face. Much like how the overuse of antibiotics has led to superbugs, farmers’ dependence on herbicides has led to chemical-resistant weeds.

These herbicide-resistant weeds are costing farmers millions. Farms are losing acres of crop as weeds overtake what would otherwise be fertile soil. To make matters worse, they’re notoriously fast-spreading, so farmers have to use a variety of methods to keep them in check. For example, they’re destroying productive fields that have been overrun with the weeds, putting a buffer in place around the affected areas to prevent their spread, using a cover crop to prevent future weed growth, mowing down the cover crop and then spraying with herbicide again.1 That’s a lot of work to kill weeds! Some farmers have even resorted to cutting down weeds with machetes. Yikes! While that’s feasible for a home vegetable garden, it’s hardly reasonable for a large commercial farm.

This outcome isn’t entirely unexpected. In the 1990s, companies developed genetically modified seeds that could withstand common herbicide application. Excited by the prospect, farmers embraced these seeds, which allowed them to spray crops multiple times a year. Unfortunately, the constant applications provided steady exposure to the herbicides’ active ingredients. Weeds that survived herbicide spraying would pass on that resistance to the next generation, and chemical-resistance was born.2

Herbicide Resistance Presents Potential Opportunities for Agrochemical Firms

The situation wouldn’t be as dire if it weren’t for the fact that the development of new agrochemical options has slowed down. There aren’t many new options to replace current herbicides on the market. It really does sound eerily familiar to the problems facing antibiotic research, doesn’t it?

Despite this, however, agrochemical companies can capitalize on the opportunity presented by the shortage. Given the struggles commercial farms now face with these herbicide-resistant weeds, there’s certainly room for innovation. Surely it’s possible for research firms to develop chemicals that can control these resistant weeds. Australia is already leading the way by creating two brand new herbicides which might be commercially available as early as 2017.3

The present slow pace of innovation contributed to the current dilemma experienced by commercial farms. In order to develop new chemicals that target these herbicide-resistant weeds, agrochemical companies will need to streamline their R&D cycles. After all, commercial farmers can’t wait a decade for a solution. They might lose their farms by then. And even if new herbicides are found, agrochemical firms can’t rest easy. They need to remain vigilant and have more potential weed-fighting chemicals in the pipeline to prevent this situation from happening again.

To do this, agrochemical companies should take the following into consideration regarding the chemical development process:

  • Transition from a paper-based R&D environment to a digital one, since the latter allows searching of existing data
  • Maximize the time spent on developing promising ideas
  • Reduce wasted time, money and resources

If the above sounds like something that could benefit your agrochemical firm, BIOVIA Chemicals Research & Development Solution might be perfect for your needs. A digital suite, its rapid search capabilities allow you to look at past experiments and develop viable ideas, thereby eliminating the need for repeat experiments. Options also let you virtually screen promising ideas, which means you can focus on chemical development that is most likely to succeed. Please contact us today to learn more.

  1. “On front lines, farmers struggle against chemical-resistant weeds,” July 7, 2014, http://harvestpublicmedia.org/article/front-lines-farmers-struggle-against-chemical-resistant-weeds
  2. “Herbicide-Resistant ‘Super-Weeds’ Increasingly Plaguing Farmers,” October 19, 2012, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/10/19/herbicide-resistant-super-weeds-increasingly-plaguing-farmers
  3. “Entirely new herbicides in pipeline to knock chemical-resistant weeds,” July 28, 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-28/herbicide-resistance-weeds/6653924

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