Weeds within GM crops boost bird populations

Genetically modified crops can boost wildlife, according to a study of herbicide-resistant crops. Leaving weeds to grow during the summer months between crop rows ensures that birds and insects have an adequate food supply, with little effect on the crops.

Scientists from Broom’s Barn Research Station in Suffolk argue that GM herbicide tolerant crops could be a “powerful tool” for sustainable farming, with the right kind of weed management. Their study, to be published in the Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B, allowed weeds to grow for longer between rows of sugar beets, before the entire field was sprayed with herbicide. The weeds encouraged endangered wildlife such as skylarks and finches to return to the fields, without affecting crop yield.

“Frequent spraying destroys the weeds on which the insects and birds feed, but our system means we can reduce the amount of spraying and allow weeds between the rows to flourish in summer without affecting yield,” says Dr John Pidgeon, director of the Station.

But some scientists warn that the widespread use of herbicides may have encouraged the spread of herbicide resistant weeds across half a million acres of US farmland, reports the New York Times.

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