The economical importance of glyphosate herbicides for European agriculture: Case studies in the UK and Germany
Recent case studies conducted by researchers in Germany and the UK predict that losing glyphosate would have a considerable effect on crop production costs and would also have an impact on the international trade in several European winter crops and sugar.
Germany’s yields for oilseed rape, for instance, are dependent on glyphosate-based weed management. Oilseed rape crops can suffer from severe black-grass (Alopecurus myosuriodes) infestation and without glyphosate it is estimated that production would decrease by 5% 6. For maize the yield reduction could be as high as 10%, since there are few alternative herbicides that are effective against couch grass (Elymus repens), which is a common maize weed in Europe. Alternative herbicides, such as diquat and glufosinate ammonium, are available but they do not control very small or large perennial weeds as efficiently as glyphosate. For the northern and eastern regions of Germany, where three-quarters of arable land is treated with glyphosate, the cultivation of some crops may not be profitable anymore and their cultivation would most likely be abandoned. Sugar beet, for instance, is very prone to infestation by volunteer rape and the potential sugar beet yield losses in these regions are estimated to be 30% - 40% 6.
While German farmers use glyphosate predominantly after harvesting, farmers in other countries rely on glyphosate as a harvest aid as well, especially in wet years. The UK, for instance, uses glyphosate to accelerate the ripening process and to dry down cereal and oilseed rape grains. The loss of glyphosate treatments in the generally wet climate of the UK would lead to an increase in grain-drying costs. This, together with an increase in weed-control problems, would result in an estimated yield loss of 20% for winter wheat and oilseed rape 2.
However, the biggest changes in the event of a glyphosate ban are likely to relate to running costs, since many farmers will probably revert to ploughing for weed control. It is estimated that more ploughing and higher costs for machinery and labour would increase production costs for several crops by EUR 8 to EUR 30 per hectare in Germany. This means that even if yields remained stable, the farmers’ profit margin would drop by 7%. The subsequent increase in farm gate prices is likely to have a considerable effect on Europe’s global market position. According to scientific simulation models, the EU’s global market share for maize, wheat, oilseed rape and sugar would fall by 2% to 4% 6.
Last update: 18 July 2013