INRA, France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research, has published the English version of an extensive report examining glyphosate
use and alternatives in French agriculture. The report was drawn up in response to a request from the French government “for an analysis of glyphosate use, the identification of possible alternatives alongside their economic and organisational implications, and suggestions for supporting measures to facilitate the transition to glyphosate-free production systems”.
The report brought together experts from a number of French institutes, including INRA’s fellow French ENDURE partners ACTA and CIRAD, in addition to Chambers of Agriculture and professional agricultural organisations, and exploited data from France’s DEPHY farms network, national and international reports, and scientific and technical publications.
Glyphosate is currently widely used in France. The latest figures available are for 2017 and show that 8,600 tonnes of active ingredient were used over the course of the year. The report draws a number of important conclusions on glyphosate’s possible removal from the range of chemicals available to farmers:
1. The analysis of the results of research and experimentation and the practices of farmers seeking to avoid glyphosate use has made it possible to identify various technical alternatives (examples of such levers include mechanical weeding, ploughing, partial avoidance strategies and living mulches, to be used alone or in combination).
2. With the support of the Chambers of Agriculture and Agricultural Technical Institutes, the report has identified difficult situations and impasses regarding these levers and the current knowledge available (for example, conservation agriculture, production in difficult conditions such as steep slopes and stony soils, and crops with strong technical constraints) .
3. Assessing extra economic costs is difficult (the effect will vary according to each farm’s particular situation and even vary on the same farm given the impact of pedoclimatic conditions).
4. Adaptation to a halt in glyphosate use involves and will continue to involve profound changes (new practices will need to be deployed with efficiency, workflows and technical skills being key to their success).
5. Many of these changes are compatible with a reduction in herbicide dependence beyond glyphosate alone (the report emphasises the importance of thinking at the system scale before implementing new practices and identifies bottlenecks due to France’s agricultural trajectory).
6. The report recommends supporting measures for the removal of glyphosate (investment aid, agro-environmental and climate measures, mobilisation of collective dynamics, agricultural advisory services and training, the use of regulations and the organisation of value chains promoting the recognition of products from glyphosate-free sectors, backed by research and applied research).
The report concludes: “Research and applied research should be pursued on the issue of withdrawing glyphosate and, more broadly, on reducing the use and impact of plant protection products. But the study conducted here introduces a break in paradigm which should be further investigated. The glyphosate situation and situations of potential impasses prompt reflection on another way of using pesticides in general and herbicides in particular.
“Indeed, the use of this molecule will be most difficult to replace in its role against perennial weeds and the underground vegetative fragments which allow them to propagate. In many cases, however, these weeds only cover a small proportion of agricultural plots and the new challenge is therefore to clearly take into account spatial heterogeneities, their characterisation and their inclusion in crop intervention and protection programmes. This requirement has not been sufficiently shared with the field of precision agriculture and therefore requires more work.”
For more information:
• You can download the report,Glyphosate use and alternatives in French agriculture - Avoiding glyphosate, taming the heterogeneities, here