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A History of Weed Control in the United States and Canada

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017


Available literature indicates that relatively few agricultural leaders and farmers became interested in weeds as a problem before 1200 A.D. or even 1500 A.D. For many centuries, weed control was mostly incidental to tillage for seedbed preparation and growing of crops and to growing and cutting or pasturing of thickly planted crops. Occasional references in literature previous to 1900 mentioned use of mechanical devices and a few inorganic herbicides specifically for weed control.

State weed laws directed at control of plant diseases were enacted during 1721 to 1766, but weed and seed laws involving weeds directly were not enacted until 100 to 200 years later. Only a few extension type publications on weeds were issued in the United States and Canada between 1860 and 1900. There was a rapid increase in such publications after 1900. Research with inorganic chemicals as herbicides was begun in the 1890's in Europe and in a few states and provinces, and was increased at a rapid pace until the early 1940's. New developments in mechanical and biological control of weeds increased steadily during the same period. However, weed control remained a relatively minor phase of agronomy, botany, horticulture, agricultural engineering, and plant physiology until the early 1950's.

About 10 years after the discovery of (2,4-dichlorophenoxy)acetic acid (2,4-D) in 1942–1944, the much increased interest of scientists, federal and state governments, industrial companies, and the general public had begun to bear fruit. The word “weed” or “weeds” began to appear in the titles of college courses and extension specialists. Weed conferences had been organized in six regions of the United States and Canada and in 10 states.

The first meeting of the Weed Science Society of America was held in 1956 and Weed Science was adopted as its official journal. The number of herbicides in general use in the United States and Canada increased from 15 in 1940 to 25 in 1950, and to 100 in 1969. The total support for weed research in 1962 in the United States was six times that in 1950. The number of full-time research and extension workers or their equivalents in part-time workers had increased 20-fold and 13-fold, respectively, over the number in 1940.

The rate of advancement in the art and science of weed control has increased so rapidly that the progress in each of the recent brief periods 1941 to 1968, 1901 to 1940, and 1800 to 1900 is considered greater than that in all previous periods, beginning about 6000 B.C.

WSSA 50th Anniversary
Copyright © Weed Science Society of America 

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