Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Aldo Leopold (1887 to 1948) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic “dealing with man's relation to land and to the animals and plants that grow upon it.” Environmental stewardship as it relates to weed science has taken on varying roles as chemical weed control took hold in managing crops as a general practice soon after World War II, and became a well-known issue during the Vietnam War, with the extensive use of Agent Orange. As technologies in both chemistry and genetics have evolved, chemical weed control became safer with the advent of less toxicologically damaging materials. Combining toxicologically safe herbicides with genetic manipulation made it possible to apply chemicals that previously would have caused plant death, seemingly providing a magic bullet that simplified weed control for many producers during the mid to late 1990s. University scientists were guarded during the introduction of this technology; many understood that the magic bullet had flaws. By using predominately POST applications on weed species, genetic selection has given rise to substantial resistance, therefore presenting weed scientists with a grand challenge for the future. As new genetic technology is introduced for existing and future weed management problems, how will environmental stewardship be addressed and how can this technology be preserved? How can a producer afford it and how can they afford not to use it? When we have weeds present that used to be managed by herbicides and genetic technology, then society will be forced to deal with the same social, economic, agronomic, and environmental issues they dealt with prior to such technology. Herbicide-resistance technology and the concomitant herbicide-resistant weeds have provided a perfect case study to learn from if those in academia, extension, and industry will pay attention. Continuing education of the producer will be perhaps the biggest key in meeting the challenge to produce a safe and plentiful food supply for a growing population with minimal adverse effects of weeds while providing a desirable degree of environmental stewardship.
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