WA GROWERS are concerned that glyphosate may be taken out of their tool kits, after several international legal decisions pushed the future of the widely-used chemical into a world of uncertainty.
The use and future of the broad-spectrum herbicide was a key point of discussion at last week’s Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) 2018 Barley Spring Forum at Dalwallinu, where more than 60 farmers, brewers, researchers and industry stakeholders gathered to discuss what lies ahead for the barley industry.
It comes after a Brazilian judge ruled earlier this month to suspend the registration of glyphosate – the key active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular weed killer Roundup – until the country’s peak health regulator completed a toxicology re-evaluation.
Brazil is the world’s biggest soybean producer and about 85 per cent of its national crop is planted to a genetically modified variety featuring Roundup Ready technology.
Meanwhile in a separate case this month Monsanto was ordered to pay $A395million in damages to an American groundskeeper, who claimed exposure to glyphosate led to his cancer diagnosis.
GIWA chief executive officer Larissa Taylor said contrary to the recent legal findings, several international regulatory bodies – including the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) – had placed glyphosate under rigorous testing and found it safe to use as labelled.
Ms Taylor said when it came to glyphosate, it was important to distinguish the difference between the science-based decisions made by regulatory bodies and the legal decisions made in courts.
She said the grain industry needed science rather than emotion to inform the public debate about glyphosate.
“The European Food Safety Authority in May – after a very extensive whole of EU review – found no cause to suggest that glyphosate is harmful to humans,” Ms Taylor said.
“The APVMA also conducted a review in 2016 and came to the same conclusion that glyphosate is safe for human consumption if used at the recommended label rates.
“What the regulators are saying is contrary to public opinion and the legal system and the parliamentary systems are responding to public opinion.”
GIWA Barley Council chairman Lyndon Mickel said despite the scientific evidence backing glyphosate as a safe herbicide, public perception against the chemical was mounting.
Mr Mickel farms on the State’s south coast at Beaumont where he said the chemical was an essential part of his broadacre enterprise.
“In our scenario we can use three to four shots of glyphosate pre-seeding and then most of the time we’ll be desiccating canola and depending on if we have beans or field peas, we’ll be using glyphosate to do that,” Mr Mickel said.
“There’s potentially five shots of glyphosate that we’re using and it’s one of the most important chemicals that we’ve got in our arsenal.”
Mr Mickel said the herbicide was an important agronomic management tool used in no-till cropping systems across the State that helped improve soil quality and preserve soil moisture in WA’s dry climate.
He said without the option of using glyphosate to tackle weed problems, WA growers might be forced to return to older management practices such as cultivation which would be grossly detrimental to WA’s already-fragile soils.
“Early this year we had winds consistently up around 40 or 50 kilometres per hour just because of that dry start and once it gets rolling, it was bloody hard to stop,” Mr Mickel said.
“If we were going to a full-cut system using cultivation, I reckon we would have been picking up half of Esperance out of South Australia.”
GIWA chairman and Kalannie grower Bob Nixon echoed these sentiments, describing the use of glyphosate in WA as “integral to the low rainfall, no-till cropping system”.
Mr Nixon said regressing to agronomic practices used in the past would not only be harmful to WA soils, but impractical on the many large-scale cropping programs across the State.
“It’s something that keeps me awake at night – we’ve got the oldest, most infertile soils in the world and we need no-till,” Mr Nixon said.
“The other problem is be careful what you wish for – if you lose glyphosate then you start moving to another set of chemicals like paraquat, diquat and amitrole that are actually a lot more harmful to the user and the environment.”