On May 22, 2023, the Glyphosate Renewal Group (GRG) organized an event in media partnership with EURACTIV- Soil health & agriculture: Going beneath the surface.

The event brought together a panel of experienced professionals who engaged in discussions on several key topics, including the role of soil health in agriculture, the contributions of conservation and regenerative agriculture systems, and the role of glyphosate within these systems.

The panel delved into the significance of soil health in agriculture, emphasizing its fundamental role in supporting sustainable and productive agricultural practices, underlying that soil health influences crucial factors such as nutrient availability, water retention, soil structure, and overall crop health. By understanding and prioritizing soil health, farmers can adopt practices that improve agricultural productivity, reduce environmental impact, and promote long-term sustainability.
Conservation and Regenerative agriculture systems that prioritize the protection and enhancement of soil health through practices such as minimal tillage, cover cropping, and crop rotation, as well as the role of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide integrated into these practices, were also discussed.

Prof. Dr. Gottlieb Basch, the President of the European Conservation Agriculture Federation (ECAF), underlined that research conducted by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in 2015 found that one billion tonnes of soil eroded per annum by water erosion. In addition, a €1.25 billion loss of agri activity per annum and overall soil degradation in the EU causes €50 billion in losses per annum.
The conservation agriculture (CA) system includes tools such as cover crops and crop rotation, meaning it does not require higher use of herbicide inputs. 
Glyphosate, used in CA, is an effective tool that contributes to global food security that would not be easily replaced as alternatives are more expensive, and harmful to humans and the environment. 

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Streit, a Professor for Agricultural Mechanization at the Bern University of Applied Sciences BFH, recounted the key principles of CA that produce soil stability and habitat for microorganisms; minimal soil disturbance/movement, permanent soil cover/permanent root system, biodiversity through crop rotation, underling that regenerative agriculture and CA improve production systems and soil quality. He underscored that these practices must be adapted to local conditions.

Max Schulman, an arable Farmer from Finland, focused on the farmers’ perspective and needs. According to him, soil is very important and must be protected as it is the farmers’ production unit. It must be fertile to facilitate growth and deliver strong yields. 

In his view, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should focus on soil productivity as a production unit and encourage sustainable methods. Schulman stated that one of the sustainable systems is CA, in which glyphosate is an enabler.

Karina von Detten, Director of Portfolio Solutions EuMEA at Nufarm, a member of the GRG, reiterated that CA is a sustainable agriculture system that avoids soil erosion and ensures biodiversity by reducing the quantity of inputs used. The approach champions minimal impact on the soil by favouring tools such as cover crops and crop rotation, but she emphasized that weed control is important. 

Glyphosate is an effective tool in CA, with no current available, viable alternatives. Replacing glyphosate would include the use of a mixture of herbicides, multiple field entries, and increased mechanical solutions that would make farmers’ life more difficult.  

When asked about the IARC classification of glyphosate as probably carcinogenic to humans, von Detten replied that among the four WHO agencies that have evaluated the safety of glyphosate, IARC is the only WHO entity to find an association between glyphosate and carcinogenicity. Furthermore, leading health authorities in Europe and other parts of the world continue to conclude that glyphosate-based products can be used safely and do not pose a risk to human health.

The event’s recording is available via this link.