A novel approach to the use of genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops for environmental benefit

Alan M. Dewar, Mike J. May, Ian P. Woiwod, Lisa A. Haylock, Gillian T. Champion, Beulah H. Garner, Richard J. N. Sands, Aiming Qi, John D. Pidgeon

Abstract

The proposed introduction of genetically modified herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crops, with claims of improved weed control, has prompted fears about possible environmental impacts of their widespread adoption, particularly on arable weeds, insects and associated farmland birds. In response to this, we have developed a novel weed–management system for GMHT sugar beet, based on band spraying, which exploits the flexibility offered by the broad–spectrum partner herbicides. Here, we show the results from two series of field experiments which, taken together, demonstrate that, by using this system, crops can be managed for enhanced weed and insect biomass without compromising yield, thus potentially offering food and shelter to farmland birds and other wildlife. These results could be applicable widely to other row crops, and indicate that creative use of GMHT technology could be a powerful tool for developing more sustainable farming systems in the future.