French research investigates crop production without glyphosate weedkillers

No-till is considered among the most environmentally sound methods, improving biodiversity, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration, but would probably be abandoned without access to glyphosate.
French research investigates crop production without glyphosate weedkillers
French research indicates no-till methods would not be economically feasible without glypgosate weedkillers.
French research indicates no-till methods would not be economically feasible without glypgosate weedkillers.

The French government’s agricultural research institute has found that banning glyphosate will significantly increase production costs for French farmers practicing no-till and conservation agriculture.

No-till is considered among the most environmentally sound methods, improving biodiversity, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration, but would probably be abandoned without access to glyphosate.

On most conventionally tilled land, the ban will increase production costs, but the impacts will be less significant.

France intends to ban glyphosate by 2022, the same year the EU Commission must decide on the renewal of the herbicide’s approval for use in the EU.

Figures for 2018 indicate that 9,700 tonnes of glyphosate were sold in France in 2018.

At the request of the French government, the French Agricultural and Environmental Research Institute (INRAE) analysed the economic impact of banning glyphosate on arable crops. INRAE sampled more than 17,000 fields, representing about 90% of typical French arable fields for major crops.

INRAE says there is no chemical alternative to glyphosate. The other two approved herbicides, dicamba and 2.4 D hormone, are less favourable to the environment and people than glyphosate, and are less effective against certain weeds.

On the 80% of the tested fields that are regularly tilled, or receive regular superficial soil turning, glyphosate use is under two or three litres per hectare, and often on less than 40% of the field area.

Glyphosate is primarily used prior to working the soil, to kill the weeds, and make the tilling easier.

Large farms tend to use more glyphosate, to reduce their workload and associated costs of soil work, especially tilling. However, agronomists believe full tilling could eliminate such uses of glyphosate.

Overall, for those fields that already use limited amounts, the increased cost without the herbicide for labour and fuel would be about €10/hectare.

About 18% of the sampled fields have very diverse conditions, where a ban of glyphosate is difficult to assess.

Some have short crop rotations, such as for rapeseed and wheat, which increase the grower’s dependency on glyphosate. For those farmers, glyphosate reduces labour time, and the increased cost of a glyphosate ban is estimated at €25.60 per hectare.

Direct sowing, or no-till field farming accounts for just less than 2% of farmed land in France, and more than 80% of those fields are treated with glyphosate.

The no-till method is considered among the most environmentally sound — improving biodiversity, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration. INRAE scientists reported that banning glyphosate would likely lead farmers employing direct sowing or no-till methods to abandon them, because of the dramatic increase in production costs.

The ban will increase their production costs as much as €80 per hectare, and surplus (sales minus production cost) would decline by 16%.

French farm organisations will use the INRAE report to urge the French government to postpone the planned ban on glyphosate. However, given the government’s vocal commitment to enforcing the ban, it may not have an impact on the policy, predicts the US Department of Agriculture, in its report on the INRAE research.

France already banned non - agricultural use sales of glyphosate, in January, 2019.

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