Social Costs of Herbicide Resistance: The Case of Resistance to Glyphosate

Unlike in the pesticide and antibiotic resistance literature, potential social costs and externalities associated with herbicide resistance have not generally been considered by economists. The economics of managing herbicide resistance in weeds has focused on cost-effective responses by growers to the development of resistance at the individual farm and field level. Economic analyses of optimal herbicide use have focused on optimising farmer returns in the long run. Weeds have been considered less mobile, compared to insects and diseases, suggesting that externalities resulting from resistance spread will be minimal and any consequent social costs low. Glyphosate is the world's most widely used broad-spectrum non-selective herbicide. Declining glyphosate prices, the adoption of no-till and minimum-till systems and the adoption of glyphosate-tolerant crops, have combined to cause a rapid increase in the use of glyphosate, and resistance is now appearing. In this paper we argue that the increasing possibility of widespread glyphosate resistance, exacerbated in some situations by spread through resistance mobility, presents a case where social costs associated with glyphosate resistance need to be considered when assessing optimal use of this herbicide resource at the farm level. Possible social costs associated with the loss of glyphosate efficacy include potential failure of herbicide-resistant crop systems, reduced use of conservation tillage techniques, and potentially more reliance on herbicides with greater environmental and health risks.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-22

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