NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Herbicides Save Money and Labor

May 22, 2003

Herbicides have won the battle for controlling weeds. In the process, they have eliminated massive soil erosion and made food more affordable.

A new study from the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy (NCFAP), financed by CropLife America, shows just how important herbicides have been.

  • Evaluating 40 different crops, the group found that alternative means of weed control -- namely cultivation and hand weeding -- would cost more than $14 billion a year compared with less than half that amount for herbicide usage.
  • Moreover, both of those alternatives carry non-dollar prices that we don't want to pay.

The chemicals have their detractors, including both the organic industry and self-styled environmentalist groups. But going back to cultivation would be an environmentalist's nightmare. "Soil erosion and mud in streams may be the biggest source of degradation in waterways," says study co-author Leonard Gianessi. "Silting is a major problem. Moreover, long-term erosion losses reduce the productivity of our farmland."

What about hand-weeding?

  • Replacing herbicides with hoes would increase labor requirements by 1.2 billion hours, according to the report.
  • Moreover, says Gianessi, we would need 70 million new workers or more than 10 times the population of El Salvador.

Organic farmers do employ hand-weeders, which is why they repeatedly rank weed control as their top priority.

In a recent study in California, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found weed-control costs of organic vegetable growers can be $1,000 per acre in comparison to the $50 per acre that conventional growers spend on herbicides.

Source: Michael Fumento (Hudson Institute), "Saving a precious natural resource," Washington Times, May 21, 2003.


Browse more articles on Environment Issues