Glyphosate: ‘We can’t control scutch without it’

“Glyphosate is a good thing; it’s certainly good for controlling perennial weeds. I don’t really know how you would continue to control scutch – or any other perennial weeds – without it.”

This was John Spink’s first reaction to the news of the renewal of glyphosate in the EU for the next five years.

The head of crops research in Teagasc painted the reality of Irish farming without the product to AgriLand recently.

“Before we had glyphosate, there were other things that we could use. In some cases, the methods weren’t very effective.

“But, you had stubble burning and other things, which we can’t do now. It’s got to be a good thing; certainly in terms of perennial weed control.”

Spink was not aware of any new products coming on stream to replace glyphosate if a ban did come into effect after the five-year renewal.

He stated that it’s hard to see why companies would invest in an alternative product, adding: “If companies are only going to get a very short renewal or lifespan for products, will they bother to invest in the costly development of alternatives – particularly if it’s just for Europe?

If the rest of the world still has glyphosate, the millions and millions that goes into developing an alternative would never re-pay.

Researching an alternative

“We are doing more work on this. We haven’t really done much on grass weed control in the last number of years, but we have in the last 12 months or slightly more,” he explained.

It’s very hard to see – from a cultural point of view – what you can do with scutch. Anything you do culturally breaks it up and makes the problem worse.

“In the past, people went through it with a scutch rake and pulled it to the edge of the field. But, don’t forget at that time, the value of spring barley was a lot more than it is today.

“It was huge in comparison to now. You could grow a crop and still make money out of it at much lower yields than we can today. I think a lot of those practices are just not viable.

“The price of grain was higher than it is now. You could probably quite happily grow a 2t/ac crop at that time, put up with competition from scutch, and still make money. But, you can’t at €130/t or €140/t,” he concluded.