It’s time to come up with a glyphosate alternative

The glyphosate issue seems to buck the trend when it comes to our farm industry leaders proclaiming that Irish agriculture must deliver what consumers want.

I thought it strange that, in the wake of the EU decision to re-authorise the use of the chemical for a further five years, they all demanded that Brussels should have taken a 15-year perspective on the matter.

And this despite the very obvious public concern about the continuing suitability of glyphosate, when it comes to its use within production agriculture.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully recognise the current need for Irish tillage and grassland farmers to use the herbicide. The fact is there is no viable alternative currently on the market.

But is this not the core issue? Surely our farming leaders should be telling the agrochemical companies that it is time for them to come up with a more bio-friendly glyphosate alternative. And this work must start now.

Simply repeating the mantra that all the scientific evidence points to glyphosate being a totally safe product gets the farming industry so far.

But after a while, a reliance on such a policy position is akin to the industry trying to push water uphill.

The public at large is sceptical about the use of glyphosate. And they are not going to change their minds.

Monsanto first identified the use of glyphosate as a herbicide almost 50 years ago. Since then, an entire revolution in crop management has been rolled-out on the back of GM maize and soya varieties that are glyphosate-tolerant.

That I am aware of, there has been no consumer backlash against the widespread use of glyphosate in the US. But the opposite has been very much the case in the EU.

Here in Ireland, glyphosate is used to provide a totally clean seed-bed prior to the establishment of new grass leys and tillage crops. It is also applied as a pre-harvest desiccant on cereals.

No one in their right mind can say that the herbicide does not have a valuable role to play within Irish agriculture. But surely the time is right for our farm leaders to kick-start a debate on what could, or should, constitute a suitable replacement.

Taking such a stance now might also make it easier to get the current re-authorisation further extended, should this need to be the case in 2022.

But to take the view that we simply hold what we have now, and not contemplate change for the future, is an act of total folly.

At the end of the day, consumers will ultimately have their way when it comes to the future use of glyphosate. And Irish agriculture should wake up to this reality.