Researchers investigate impacts if glyphosate were banned

08 April 2024 | Muriel Cozier

The research team hopes that the modelling exercise will encourage more farmers to experiment with alternative weed control strategies.

Work carried out at the UK’s Rothamsted Research indicates that a ban on glyphosate could lead to an increase in the abundance of weeds and a decrease in the yield of some crops.

The research team modelled the impacts of discontinuing glyphosate use and replacing it with alternative weed control based on winter wheat arable systems, which the researchers said is typical in northwest Europe. Publishing the work in Scientific Reports, the researchers concluded that removing glyphosate from arable systems has significant implications. While it results in increased weed abundance, reduced crop yields, and lowered profits, it can also offer positive outcomes, such as reduced herbicide risk to the environment, and increased arable plant diversity.

Glyphosate is under scrutiny due to concerns about its impact on human health and the environment. During December 2023, the European Commission renewed the approval of the substance for use in the European Union for ten years, subject to new certain conditions and restrictions. However, this move led a coalition of NGOs to challenge the European Commission's decision. The NGOs have said that in reaching their decision the European Commission did not comply with EU law and case law.

Glyphosate is widely used in arable farming, but in regenerative systems the substance is important for weed control in no-till stubbles and the management of cover crops and leys. The environmental and health issues associated with glyphosate may trade off against some of the benefits of moving to more sustainable systems that reduce tillage and integrate cover crops, the Rothamstead researchers say.

‘Our findings emphasise the need for careful consideration of trade offs if a ban were to be enacted. Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide, is linked with environmental harm and possible human health issues, but its use is central to the no-till farming approaches. Public pressure is now building for it to be replaced in agricultural systems. We wanted to find out what the implications might be.’ said Dr Helen Metcalfe, leader of the study at Rothamsted.

The research team hopes that the modelling exercise will encourage more farmers to experiment with alternative weed control strategies.

‘Many farmers are beginning to investigate how they can best control weeds with fewer herbicides. Simulation studies like this one can help to carefully assess any management changes as it is not always possible to predict outcomes when so many variables, including weather, are playing a key role, Dr Metcalfe added.

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