Controversy surrounding the use of glyphosate in food production systems remains a hot topic of debate in the US and around the world. Consumers claim to want food free from “chemicals,” policymakers continue to push for more “sustainable” farming practices, and special interest groups keep raising fears about health consequences, all of which have kept the world’s most widely used herbicide squarely in the crosshairs. However, eliminating this vital chemical from the agricultural toolbox would have costly and far-reaching consequences, according to a report from our friends at “Aimpoint Research”.
While farmers and agriculture systems would eventually adapt, “it would be a substantial economic cost to farmers and cause the rapid release of greenhouse gasses, reversing decades of conservation and sustainability gains,” said Gregg Doud, Aimpoint Research Chief Economist. Doud says the report confirms what many farmers already know – glyphosate is currently a core tool in our modern agricultural system, helping keep costs down and promoting increased conservation practices. And its loss would not be trivial.
Aimpoint Research leveraged multiple research methods in order to gain an understanding of the impact of glyphosate on agricultural systems, including “military-style wargaming techniques.” I encourage you to read the full report HERE. Some of the key findings include:
- Without glyphosate, there would be one of two changes in production practices – or a combination thereof – for soybean, corn, wheat, and cotton farmers: Adoption of alternative products and/or increased tillage practices.
- Wider spread application of likely alternatives, such as glufosinate and 2,4-D, pose potentially higher risks of environmental impact. Many alternatives have lower soil adsorption factor ratings; higher Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) ratings, and higher bioaccumulation factors.
- Increased tillage along with an expected decreased cover crops would lead to the release of up to 34 million tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent of 6.8 million cars or nearly 36.5 million acres of forests.
- Increased tillage would additionally lead to the deterioration of soil health with farmers experiencing increased erosion and incremental declines in long-term farm productivity.
- Without glyphosate, less double cropping would occur, especially for winter wheat followed by soybeans as weed control options would be limited for this crop program, as well as others.
- Farmers would see a 2-2.5x increase in input costs due to limited supply and higher prices of alternative products. The increase would disproportionately impact smaller farms.
- Increasing tillage would raise production costs by over $1.9 billion.
- Increased production costs would add inflationary pressure on food prices over the long-term for consumers while US agriculture – and US corn in particular – would become less competitive globally.
- Consolidation of farming operations in the US would also likely accelerate to address production costs and maintain per-acre margins.
- Increased production costs for corn and soybeans and any trend toward increased tillage would create headwinds for ethanol and bio-mass-based diesel production and benefits from use. This is especially the case with changes in tillage practices.
- Any regulatorily-induced reduction in glyphosate use in the US is not likely to change the acceptance or usage of glyphosate or that of glyphosate-tolerant varieties amongst the world’s major producers of corn, soybeans, and cotton. Meaning US farmers would be at a disadvantage versus global competitors such as Brazil and Argentina, where adoption rates for herbicide-tolerant biotech crops are also high.
- More alternatives would eventually be available over time but would take several years and significant investment – an investment that would likely be slowed by regulatory uncertainty and a vacuum in crop protection innovation.
- It is important to note the next generation of weed control technology beyond synthetic herbicides remains in the development phase, facing unresolved hurdles to achieving scale and adoption. A loss of glyphosate, however, not only leaves a gap in weed control solutions for the shorter term but can be expected to have an adverse impact on the development of many of these new technologies, particularly biological products.