Removing glyphosate from farmers' weed management toolbox will not be easy
The GRG would like to address a common statement that non-chemical weed control alternatives and other preventative methods could easily replace herbicides in general and glyphosate in particular.
For thousands of years, farmers have managed weeds in their crops through a variety of cultural and mechanical means. It is therefore true that it is possible to manage weeds without herbicides with some success.
However, it is important to question the effectiveness of the other methods, their viability for European agricultural production, their environmental, social and economic impacts, and whether it makes sense to remove tools from the farmer’s toolbox, even if they can be used safely.
Ongoing discussions about phasing out herbicides often suggest a number of prominent alternatives, such as weeders and thermal weeders.
These would be difficult, if not impossible, to deploy and implement on a scale relevant to production agriculture.
For example, while thermal weeding is effective against some weeds, it is labour intensive and does not effectively control weeds with persistent root systems.
Similarly, tillage is an effective practice but can lead to soil erosion, increased CO2 emissions and reduced soil organic carbon.
We know that soil is a non-renewable resource that has long been degraded by unsustainable practices such as mechanical weed control, and we need to recognise the significant trade-offs associated with such an approach.
On the other hand, the practice of conservation agriculture, in which glyphosate plays an essential role, promotes minimum soil disturbance (i.e. no-tillage) and the practice of diverse crop rotations, one of the tools often suggested as an alternative.
In addition to the viability of large-scale adoption of alternative practices and the potential environmental impact of alternatives, there is also the question of affordability for farmers and, by extension, consumers.
This was highlighted in a report published in June by the French National Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research (INRAE), commissioned by the French government, which analysed the economic impact that the loss of glyphosate and a return to traditional tillage practices would have on French arable crops.
The report concludes that farmers currently using glyphosate and switching to no-tillage would face increased production costs of up to €79.83 per hectare, mainly due to increased fuel consumption and labour requirements.
The work carried out by INRAE has also revealed some situations of technical deadlock, where no commonly used alternative can meet the needs of professionals in the short term without a substantial change in practice, which would have a major impact on agricultural activity.
Herbicides, which are carefully regulated and monitored in the EU, are one of the tools available to farmers for effective weed management, and the proposed approach of eliminating their use completely ignores the viability and impact of currently available alternatives.
In the case of glyphosate, while alternatives are available, its efficacy remains a critical factor in maintaining crop health and productivity. Glyphosate’s potential impacts, as well as its contribution to biodiversity, are thoroughly discussed in the re-registration dossier, which integrates the elements discussed above to demonstrate its rightful place within integrated and diversified sustainable weed management systems.
We invite you to access the scientific dossier submitted as part of the EU glyphosate re-registration process on the GRG website.