Alternative Methods in Weed Management to the use of Glyphosate and other herbicides

All is not lost as the onslaught against glyphosate steam rolls through the world, there are alternatives to using herbicides.

PAN UK has produced a comprehensive paper detailing the different methods required to take a farm to a low use and or, herbicide free farm, without the need to be organic.

Even though pesticides have helped with food production, they have and do impact negatively on the environment, not to mention human health.  According to the paper you can download in the article below, in 2017 a UN report of Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food “highlights the adverse impact of pesticide use on human rights, human health (workers, their families, bystanders, residents and consumers) and the environment. The report also reveals that intensive agriculture based on  pesticide use has not contributed to reduce world hunger.”

To refresh us quickly “Herbicides are used in agriculture and horticulture to combat weeds that compete with crops and pasture for nutrients, water and sunlight resulting in reduced crop and livestock yield and quality, which in turn reduces profitability. The next most widespread use is for no-till and reduced tillage systems where herbicides, principally glyphosate, are used to kill all vegetation, post harvest, and also pre-crop and pasture establishment. It is also used to ripen and desiccate grain and seed crops prior to harvest. Non-agricultural uses include the management of invasive plant species, to assist the management of public areas, for aesthetics or reduce hazards (e.g. sidewalks, pavements and railways) or for weed control in private gardens.”

As the report highlights, there “is a widespread belief that herbicides are safe for human health and have little impact on the environment. Based on this belief, mainstream agricultural systems are now almost completely dependent on the use of pesticides, specifically herbicides. Many farmers have abandoned a number of equally effective, non-chemical weed management methods. As a result, every day tonnes of herbicides are applied to fields and their surroundings, which can put human health at risk and also negatively impacts on biological processes and ecosystem functioning that can combat damaging weeds and other pests. Farmers and growers have become dependent on pesticides and herbicides while many non-chemical alternatives have been lost from the collective memory, so producers end up on a pesticide treadmill they cannot get off.”

There are a myriad of both indirect and direct impacts that these toxins bring to the environment, including destroying soil organisms and eradicating vital food resources for other species, like birds and insects – and our honey bees.  In addition to this they too are increasingly less effective due to evolved weed resistance, as this paper explains, in “2018, there were nearly 500 ‘unique resistance cases’, i.e., weed species resistant to one herbicide, from less than ten cases in 1970”.

For those who have a passion for all things linked to soil and growing “this report outlines the wide range of non-chemical alternatives to herbicides that are already available and used by groups such as organic farmers and those practicing integrated weed management (IWM). It highlights the critical need for mainstream farmers and growers to make much wider use of these tools, and the need to expand and improve current non-chemical tools while also developing novel approaches where current techniques are not effective enough. Using glyphosate-based herbicides as a reference, the (current) analysis presents a wide variety of weed management approaches that achieve highly effective weed control without the use of herbicides.”

As it states herbicides are not the only way to farm, to manage our gardens or to look after our open spaces; by “integrating physical or mechanical, biological and ecological agricultural practices with the broad knowledge acquired on the biological and ecological characteristics of crop plants and weeds, farmers can successfully manage weeds without herbicides, while maintaining high yields, avoiding building resistance in weed species, protecting soil health and biodiversity and minimising erosion….Finally, it presents a list of suggestions on the transition towards a pesticide-free weed management practices.”

It is vitally important for all aspects of our environment that alternatives to the use of this toxin are found and implemented as “herbicides are applied on fields in the open air, and therefore inevitably contaminate the wider environment, i.e. the atmosphere, soil, surface and ground water, and the seas and oceans, potentially exposing the organisms living there, which puts ecosystems at risk (Carvalho, 2017). Glyphosate works on all plant species; no other herbicide is so broad-spectrum. Hence, glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides have both direct and indirect impacts on ecosystems and the environment. Direct effects include glyphosate causing harm in a wide range of species, including birds, fish, frogs, snails, insects, and soil microbes (Watts et al.,2016). Indirect effects include the unprecedented elimination of all weeds/wildflowers, which have knock-on effects on agro-ecosystems (Watts et al., 2016). Farmland biodiversity and ecosystem functions, such as pest control by their natural predators, pollination services by insects and functional soil structures are increasingly jeopardised by the near-complete elimination of not only weeds but all wild plants from agricultural fields and adjacent land, in addition to direct toxic effects on many species. This impact on ecosystem services has a direct economic cost. The ecological disturbance and disruption of such ecosystem services is one of the difficulties conventional farmers face when transitioning to ecologically friendly agricultural systems (Schütte, 2003).

There is no need for anyone to die, honey bees to be harmed or our environments polluted with yet another problem that could be done without.  There is no need for the cost of our apathy or negligence to be life.  To kill.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE REPORT – YOUR OWN GUIDE TO TRANSITIONING TO A HERBICIDE FREE ENVIRONMENT. Alternative Methods in Weed Management to the use of Glyphosate and other herbicides written by PAN Europe staff and Prof. Isabel Branco Charles Merfield.

This report was developed with the financial support of The Greens/EFA and was written by PAN Europe staff with the assistance and contribution of Prof. Isabel Branco, who works at Quercus and teaches soil sciences at the University of Trás-o-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) and Charles Merfield, Head of the BHU Future Farming Centre. PAN Europe recognises their valuable contribution in the development of the report Pesticide Action Network Europe, 2018 (second edition). Rue de la Pacification 67, 1000 Brussels, Belgium tel: +32 2 318 62 55 ; ;

Full references referred above can be found in the report referred.

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