ENDURE is to draw on its resources as a consortium of research and development organisations involved in the implementation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to shed light on the issue of glyphosate use in European agriculture. In particular, it will be seeking to identify the research strategies which could be most pertinent to the issue.
ENDURE’s executive committee dedicated much of its meeting in Berlin to the issue of glyphosate use, noting that the European Commission’s renewal process for glyphosate had raised several questions. These include whether and to what extent European agricultural systems have become dependent on glyphosate, whether or not technical alternatives to glyphosate are already available and the potential socio-economic and environmental impacts of glyphosate-free cropping systems.
ENDURE is acting as a forum for discussions on a number of key points. This includes sharing expert views on the possible implications of reduced glyphosate use or its complete ban, and compiling existing alternatives to the use of the herbicide and assessing their efficacy as well as their associated economic or organisational drawbacks. There are also discussions to be had on the extent to which the focus on herbicide use can provide an opportunity for a wider implementation of Integrated Weed Management. Furthermore, mapping of ongoing R&D activities on the issue will be conducted and research needs which could be funded nationally or at the European scale will be identified.
The Berlin meeting highlighted the range of political attitudes to glyphosate use across Europe, ranging from a keen desire to see it withdrawn after the current five-year period through to more laissez faire attitudes to the herbicide.
In France, for example, where 9,100 tonnes of active ingredient are used annually, there is a strong political will to ensure glyphosate is not an option in the future. An initial gathering of expert views in the country has revealed alternatives to glyphosate use, their limitations and those situations in which the withdrawal of glyphosate would be particularly tricky, such as no-till systems and hillside vineyards. And, in February, the French government took the step of launching an online resource centre, composed of all the existing alternatives to glyphosate use to help support the reduction in its use. It includes alternatives for six different types of system: arable crops, arboriculture, vegetables crops, tropical crops, horticulture and aromatic and medicinal plants, and viticulture (see image above right).
The situation in Germany is similar, in that there is a strong political will, driven by broader environmental concerns (biodiversity), to reduce glyphosate use significantly with the aim of basically terminating applications completely. German experts have estimated the average cost of banning glyphosate, which ranges from no cost to €40 or more per hectare, with the proviso that these costs may change over time due to new technology and machinery.
Glyphosate is not so much an issue for the Danish government, for example, where its use has made it possible to produce certain crops, though non-governmental organisations have been vocal on the topic. Given the country’s high level of exports (around d two-thirds of total agricultural production), any requirement to produce without glyphosate use for export markets would have significant implications.
In a number of countries, such as Italy, the development of herbicide resistance is a major concern and may drive the search for alternatives, even in those nations with a strong lobby supporting glyphosate use.
Over the coming months, ENDURE will be conducting more detailed mapping on glyphosate use, assembling data, identifying drivers and technical impasses etc. As a result of this work, ENDURE will be producing a position paper which will include insights into the main research priorities which are not currently covered by national or European R&D programmes.