Research carried out by the European Commission’s “Science for Environment Policy” suggests a herbicide-light approach to farming does not have to compromise on crop yields.

Researchers carried out studies in 55 experimental and agricultural fields across France between 2000 and 2010.

The study explored the impact of reduced herbicide use across a variety of different farming contexts. It found that herbicide-efficient systems could be just as productive as conventional systems — and more so than organic systems — while having other important environmental benefits.

“The careful treatment of weeds is an important consideration in ecological intensification, since weeds can help to create more diverse habitats for wildlife, and may contribute to crop pollination and pest control on farmed land,” the research summary said.

“From a farmer’s point of view it may be beneficial to apply less herbicide in order to preserve some of these useful functions. However, a balance must be struck between reducing herbicide use and crop losses due to weed infestations.”

The studies covered a wide range of crops and methods, including field observations, farmer surveys and modelling of weed growth and functions across different farming systems.

Farming systems were grouped into conventional farming, organic farming and integrated pest management (IPM) or herbicide reduction approaches.

Overall, the results showed that IPM systems were more sustainable and environmentally friendly than the other types of systems, and suggested that using less herbicide does not necessarily lead to lower yields.

“As long as farmers combine herbicide reduction with other land management strategies that control weeds, they can produce similar yields whilst also improving the sustainability of their farming practices,” the research summary said.

No major weed outbreaks occurred in the studies and the modelling results suggest that alternative weed management practices resulted in potentially important biodiversity impacts.