The vast majority of crop hectares in the United States are treated with chemical herbicides annually. The adoption of herbicides for weed control was rapid in the 1950s and 1960s. Herbicides replaced the use of millions of workers to pull and hoe weeds by hand and greatly reduced the use of tillage for weed control. Costs of production were reduced and crop yields increased because herbicides were cheaper and more effective than hand weeding and cultivation. Organic crop growers cite weed control as their greatest difficulty in crop production because they are not permitted the use of chemical herbicides. They substitute hand weeding and cultivation for herbicides at a greatly increased cost and with reduced effectiveness. Aggregate studies that estimate the value of herbicides assume that growers would substitute a certain amount of hand weeding and tillage if chemicals were not used, which would not be sufficient to prevent yield losses totaling about 20% of U.S. crop production.
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Vol. 21 • No. 2