Why not speak about herbicides for a change ? Here are a few pictures and extracts from a French agriculture magazine dating from 1969 that I found somewhere; this is a special issue of Le Producteur Agricole Français (march 1969 issue) devoted to herbicides and weedkillers. What we see here on the fields happened just the same in the vineyards, farmers all over the country implemented the chemical revolution and unknowingly began to take huge risks for themselves by spraying from their open tractor. This year (1969) was one of those early years of the rosy utopia for almighty herbicide, and you somehow feel the thrill of enthusiasm (much of it State-sponsored as you will learn later) behind these articles and ads. Finger pointing is of course the easy thing to do but it has to be toned down by reminding that this was another world then and everyone was happy beginning with the farmers whenever a new technical or chemical discovery seemed to solve age-old problems.
This post may help you understand why today the backlash is so strong in France and why biodynamic farming has such a success among the growers.
European industrial research made its first significant contribution to modern weedkilling in 1934 with the discovery of the selective properties of dinitro o cresol (DNC) by the two French chemists, Georges Truffaut and I. Pastac (11), of Versailles. They were originally investigating the fungicidal activity of organic dyestuffs and this work led them to a study of the effect of these dyes on plant tissues. Truffaut and Pastac found that the susceptibility of plants varied from species to species and with the age of the plant. They came to realise that by selecting a suitable dye and choosing an appropriate dosage rate results of practical value to agriculture could be achieved, notably the destruction of wild mustard and thistles in cereal crops, without significant damage to the cereals. Agriculturists even at that time were well aware of the crop losses caused by weed competition in cereals, and this discovery in France was followed up by much development by W. E. Ripper and his co-workers of Pest Control Ltd., of Harston, England. They confirmed that the most effective of these organic dyes was DNC and they established the optimum rates, times and methods of application to control weeds in cereals. They also did a lot of interesting development work on dinitro o secondary butylphenol (dinoseb) but that was, of course, an American discovery. The disadvantages, however, of DNC were also high-lighted, particularly its toxicity to man and its failure to control buttercups and poppies. The growth regulators. By far the most outstanding advance in weed control methods was the discovery, in 1940-42 by my colleagues WXT. A. Sexton, R. E.. Slade and W. G. Templeman of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. (9) at Jealott's Hill. England, that synthetic plant growth regulators were effective as selective weedkillers. This was a revolutionary discovery.
A total herbicide and perfectly-resistant crops (title). These are the research objectives highlighted by M. de Gournay, research head at the INRA. This is the ideal solution to the question of the elimination of weeds among the crops. If on one side chemists work hard at creating new chemicals that can destroy a wide range of weeds, on the other side, geneticists have been slow until now to select crops which are more resistant to herbicides. Is there a solution for this problem ? It needs at least to be considered and studied.
Your wish come true, or how our wildest dream can materialize one day : This is just what the GMOs are about : selected crops that can stand high doses of herbicides and pesticides...
Further, Mr Récamier of the ENSA at Grignon (a State agrotech school) says that since a few years, thanks to the creation of certain herbicides, it has been made possible to grow cereals without prior plowing. He explains the results of research conducted on this question at the ENSA Grignon where they grew crops on the same field 10 years in a row without plowing.
Its 40 meters of spraying range (augmented even more with a well-oriented wind) in the vineyard allows a rapid intervention in urgent cases, like when the ground is wet and muddy.
I love the mention of the light, well-oriented wind, there have been probably many tractor drivers who got atomized, sort of, by spraying with the Atomix Canon on their open tractors...with a not-so-well-oriented wind...
To show that nothing is simple, it must be said that from recent studies, the highest users of herbicides when you take into account the respective surface are the general public (amateur gardeners use tons of them for their gardens and alleys), the road maintenance services in the villages and small towns, and the SNCF, the French train monopoly. The latter literally poured tons of herbicides for years along its railroad tracks. According to some, this is a hot issue and a long-lasting pollution even though no mainstream media seems to look into the subject. here is a video showing a "train desherbeur" (weedkiller train) in a train station. This very rare video shows very interesting live images of a such a weedkiller train in use (the first train shot on this video, the 3 following trains being ordinary passagenr-trains - See the spraying coming out of the white train car). This is a TDGR (Train Desherbeur à Grand Rendement - High Yield Weedkiller Train). Here is a well-documented web page about these very special trains, once on the web page, click on the pictures for details. The SNCF was by the way sued and condemned last year for having polluted Stéphane Tissot's vineyard in the Jura. But most of this pollution goes unchallenged across the country I'm afraid. The SNCF is still marketing itself as ecology-friendly through ads like this one, that's pretty shameful (notice by the way the grass growing freely along the tracks in this grossly misleading ad).
Here is the complete Pdf file of the 1969 agriculture magazine. The Pdf is not of the best quality, the 40-page magazine was not in pristine conditions and I shot the pictures quickly with a hand-held camera...
Many of the writers in this issue have connections with State agencies or State-sanctionned interest groups like INRA, ITCF, AGPM (maïs), CETIOM, AGPB (céréales), AFPP, CTCD (reproduction animale).
The MDRGF, which is a non-profit group dealing with the danger of chemicals and pesticides in food, was sued by the FNPRT, the conventional (read : chemical) table-grape growers union, for having conducted lab analysys of their grapes for chemical residues (they had took samples of different table grapes sold in supermarkets for analysis on chemical & pesticides residues). It seems that transparency was not welcome here. Happily, the plaintiffs were rebuffed by the judicial system a few days ago and the FNPRT was even condemned for futile lawsuit. Here is the MDRGF press release [Pdf] on this affair (in French).