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ENDURE’s survey on glyphosate uses in European countriesqrcode

May. 13, 2020

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May. 13, 2020
In 2019, the ENDURE network launched a survey on the agricultural use of glyphosate in European countries. This report presents the results obtained through the survey and proposes a framework for understanding and monitoring glyphosate uses.

The share of herbicides among all pesticide sales varies from one country to another. It is particularly high in Sweden (where herbicides represented 85% of the total volume of pesticides sold in 2017), Norway (83%), Denmark (82%), Estonia (76%), Ireland (73%), Latvia (73%), Lithuania (63%), United Kingdom (62%) and Poland (61%) and is particularly low in Malta (2%), Cyprus (13%) and Italy (17%). When reported by hectare of agricultural area, the countries with the highest average use of herbicides are Belgium, Netherlands, Cyprus, France, Germany, Denmark and Poland. The average use of herbicides in the agricultural sector at the EU 28+3 level can be estimated at 0.62 kg of a.i. per hectare. The total volume of herbicides sold in all EU 28+3 countries remained rather stable from 2011 to 2017, while at the national level, herbicide sales numbers showed a high degree of fluctuation.

The ENDURE survey made it possible to collect data on glyphosate sales in 25 countries. In addition, an estimation was calculated for the other seven countries for which no data could be obtained. The total sales of glyphosate are estimated at 46,527 tonnes of a.i. in 2017 across the EU 28+3 (47,452 tonnes of a.i. across the EU 28+4). Overall, sales of glyphosate represent 33% of total herbicide sales in the EU 28+3. Therefore, glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in European agriculture. Similar to overall herbicide sales, glyphosate sales (in volume of active ingredients) appear to be the highest in France (20% of the EU 28+4 total glyphosate sales volume in 2017), Poland (14%), Germany (10%), Italy (8%) and Spain (8%). Glyphosate represents 15% to 78% of total herbicide active ingredient sales in the countries surveyed. According to the survey, glyphosate is mainly used in the agricultural sector. Across the 13 countries for which the share of glyphosate sales to the agricultural sector was available, the agricultural sector consumes on average 90% of total national glyphosate sales (by volume). When reported by hectare of agricultural area, the average use of glyphosate at the EU 28+3 level is 0.20 kg a.i. per hectare. The five countries with the highest use of glyphosate in 2017 were Denmark, Poland, Netherlands, Portugal and France (≥0.32 kg of a.i. per ha). The five countries with the lowest use of glyphosate were Turkey, Lithuania, Latvia, UK and Switzerland (≤0.12 kg of a.i. per ha).

This report offers a framework for understanding and monitoring glyphosate uses in the agricultural sector, based on the identification of the cropping systems in which glyphosate is used, the agronomic purposes for which it is used and the nature of this use (from occasional to systematic). Glyphosate is widely used in annual cropping systems, perennial crops and grasslands. In annual cropping systems, it is mostly used prior to sowing, shortly after sowing of the crop (at the pre-emergence stage) or at the post-harvest stage for controlling weeds and volunteers. Annual cropping systems in which glyphosate is used include a large variety of crops (such as maize, oilseed rape, cereals, legume crops, sugar and fodder beet etc.). It is also used for the destruction of cover crops, and for ensuring the desiccation of certain annual crops at the pre-harvest stage. In perennial crops (such as vineyards, fruit orchards, olives groves etc.), glyphosate is used for controlling weeds within or between crop rows. Finally, glyphosate is used for the destruction of temporary grassland, for local control of perennial weeds in permanent grassland and for grassland renewal. Overall, the survey shows that the herbicide is used for at least eight agronomic purposes.

Statistical data regarding glyphosate use in annual cropping systems is limited. In addition, the allocation of glyphosate treatments that are applied in the intercropping period may vary across countries. Four different allocation rules were identified through the survey: allocation from harvest to harvest, allocation from field preparation to post-harvest treatments, allocation to the intercrop period and allocation to the cropping system. In some countries, several allocation rules may apply depending on the statistical dataset. As a consequence, comparisons of glyphosate uses in annual cropping systems between countries or crops must be considered as a preliminary indication.

Within the scope for which data could be obtained through the survey, 32% of the wheat acreage, 25% of the maize acreage and 52% of the oilseed rape acreage were treated with glyphosate in any single year. The treated acreage varies greatly from one country to another: the use of glyphosate in maize fields was almost inexistent in some countries, while it reached up to 40% of the crop area in other countries. In oilseed rape fields, the share of the crop area treated with glyphosate varied from less than 10% to more than 70%. Similarly, in winter wheat fields, the share of the crop area on which glyphosate is used varied from less than 10% to 90%. Those percentages include: treatments for controlling weeds applied before cultivation (at the pre-sowing or pre-emergence stage) that may occur for each new sowing in the crop rotation; treatments for controlling weeds that are applied only once in the crop rotation (at a post-harvest stage or during an intercropping period); and desiccation/harvest aid for some of the crops (in countries in which this is allowed). As the percentages are for any single year, the area treated with glyphosate in any region over a full crop rotation period may be greater. Additional research is needed for assessing the total uses of glyphosate throughout the crop rotations in EU countries.

In perennial systems, within the scope for which data was available in the EU 28+4, 39% of the fruit orchard acreage, 32% of the vineyard acreage and 45% of the olive grove acreage were treated with glyphosate. Across countries, the use of glyphosate ranged from 13% to 95% of the national vineyard acreage, from 20% to 92% of the fruit orchard acreage and from 13% to 80% of the olive grove acreage. Finally, 19% of the temporary grassland acreage was treated with glyphosate annually.

A diversity of non-chemical alternatives to glyphosate treatments can be identified. Their effectiveness, cost and adoption implications for crops and the environment can vary widely, or may not be quantified. They include both preventive measures and curative control measures, such as mechanical and biological control. In annual cropping systems, these practices include: use of cover crops and of a roller-crimper for their destruction, mulching, crop rotation diversification, delaying crop sowing dates, higher seed rates, increasing crop competitiveness, inter-row cultivation, tillage for controlling weeds at the post-harvest and pre-sowing stages, use of early-ripening varieties and weed seed removal during harvest. In perennial crops, the following alternatives were identified: greening, grazing, mowing, mulching, cover crops, tillage, mechanical weeding and the use of bioherbicides for weed control.

Different approaches to using glyphosate were identified through the survey. Occasional uses are related to exceptional contexts, such as meteorological conditions or specific farm constraints. Recurrent uses are widespread practices that are already embedded in farming systems. Other agronomic solutions may exist but are not mobilised; instead farmers plan to, and recurrently do, use glyphosate. Two types of recurrent uses can be distinguished: uses related to structural conditions and systematic uses that are not related to structural conditions. First, uses related to structural conditions appear when equipment or infrastructure are not compatible with alternative practices. Examples of such structural conditions include irrigation systems that are located above ground in fruit orchards and narrow rows in orchards or vineyards which prevent weed management using mechanical methods. For replacing glyphosate with non-chemical alternatives, a change in these structural aspects is required, which may involve significant investments. Second, systematic uses not related to structural conditions result from the evolution of farming systems generally characterised by reduced tillage systems, largescale farms and the availability of highly efficient, low-priced herbicides such as glyphosate. Examples of systematic uses include the use of glyphosate for crop desiccation, for the destruction of cover crops and temporary grasslands, and for weed management in annual and perennial crop systems. In the case of systematic uses, multiple inter-related factors may hinder the shift to non-chemical alternatives. These include: limited, and in some cases no, availability of and access to alternative inputs and adapted machinery; constraints and opportunities due to regulations and subsidies; lack of advice, knowledge and references regarding alternative practices; uncertainties, risks and variability in agronomic performance and profitability of alternative practices; constraints in farm resources; commercial context; challenges in terms of labour organisation; and cultural and cognitive aspects.

Further research is needed to assess the conditions, including the economic and technical aspects as well as systemic contexts, that are required for enhancing the adoption of non-chemical alternatives to glyphosate.

Download the report here >>

ENDURE is a network of organisations focusing on Integrated Pest Management (IPM):

Source: Endure

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