May 12th 2020

A survey on the agricultural uses of glyphosate in European countries

This report presents the results obtained through a survey on the agricultural use of glyphosate in European countries and proposes a framework for understanding and monitoring glyphosate uses.


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This report presents the results obtained through a survey on the agricultural use of glyphosate in European countries and proposes a framework for understanding and monitoring glyphosate uses.

The total sales of glyphosate are estimated at 46,527 tonnes of a.i. in 2017 across the EU 28+3 (28 EU countries + Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). Overall, sales of glyphosate represent 33% of total herbicide sales in the EU 28+3 : glyphosate is one of the most widely used herbicides in European agriculture. Glyphosate represents 15% to 78% of total herbicide active ingredient sales in the countries surveyed.

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.

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; and 39% of the fruit orchard acreage, 32% of the vineyard acreage and 45% of the olive grove acreage were treated with glyphosate. 

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.

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.

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.


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