Future Without Glyphosate?

Report Finds Loss of the Herbicide Glyphosate Would Be Costly to Farmers, Environment

Jason Jenkins
By  Jason Jenkins , DTN Crops Editor
Connect with Jason:
A new report finds that conservation practices such as reduced tillage and cover cropping would suffer if glyphosate were not available. (DTN file photo)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (DTN) -- For decades, when U.S. farmers needed to control a wide spectrum of broadleaf weeds and grasses, they turned to glyphosate as an effective, cost-efficient herbicide. But what if glyphosate weren't a tool in a farmer's weed-control toolbox?

According to a new report released Thursday by an Ohio-based global strategic intelligence firm, the near-term consequences of losing glyphosate would be costly and far-reaching not only to farmers but also to the economy and the environment. The report was funded by Bayer.

"Ongoing public debate about glyphosate has led some to question what the impacts would be if it were no longer available," said retired Army Col. Mark Purdy, chief operations officer for Aimpoint Research, during an online press conference. "Aimpoint Research leveraged multiple research and analytical methods, including open-source research, economic modeling, subject matter, expert interviews and military wargaming techniques to understand the complexities of glyphosate's impact on agriculture and outlined what the future could look like without it."

In the report's executive summary, Aimpoint determined that if glyphosate were no longer available, markets would adapt through substitution and adjusted practices but at a substantial cost to farmers and the environment. The report outlined the following impacts:

-- An overall increase in tillage and decrease in cover crops. This could potentially lead to the release of up to 34 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, the equivalent of emissions from 6.8 million gasoline-powered cars driven for a year or the carbon sequestered by nearly 36.5 million acres of forest.

"I think sometimes glyphosate is seen singularly as a chemical and not appreciated for what it does necessarily to facilitate some of our other programs, especially with respect to climate-smart agriculture," Purdy added.

-- Alternative herbicide products exist but at a much higher per-acre cost than glyphosate. As a result, input costs for farmers would increase 2 to 2.5 times due to limited supply and higher prices of these alternative products. The increase would disproportionately impact smaller farms.

-- Increased tillage would increase the cost of production, both for labor and machinery, by more than $1.9 billion for farmers. Higher production costs would add inflationary pressure on food prices for consumers over the long term.

-- U.S. agriculture, and U.S. corn in particular, would become less competitive globally.

-- More alternatives would eventually be available over time but would take several years and a significant investment. This investment would likely be slowed by regulatory uncertainty and a vacuum in crop protection innovation.

"Given that (the loss of) glyphosate would impact corn and soybeans, key foodstuff commodities, any inflationary pressure would be felt in consumer spending on proteins," Purdy said. "Inflationary pressure could impact SNAP and WIC as well as the procurement costs of federal nutrition programs, including school lunches."

The report also states that though the most severe effects would be felt at the farm level, marginal changes in the increased carbon intensity could reduce market demand for corn and soybeans used as renewable fuel feedstock. Commodity production costs would rise for food and feed use, with the aggregate higher cost being passed through to end users of renewable fuels and meat, poultry, dairy and eggs.

"While markets would adapt to a world without glyphosate, it would cause the rapid release of greenhouse gases, reversing decades of conservation and sustainability gains," said Gregg Doud, Aimpoint's research chief economist. "This report confirms what many farmers know: Glyphosate is currently a core tool in our modern agricultural system, helping keep costs down and promoting increased conservation practices."

Aimpoint acknowledged that Bayer, a manufacturer of glyphosate, commissioned the report. During the online press conference, Purdy said the strategic intelligence firm has monitored the debate surrounding glyphosate for its potential impact on U.S. agriculture and global food security.

"We're always looking for partners and funders for us to be able to contemplate these future states and be able to share that with the industry. And we were fortunate enough that Bayer stepped up to fund this project," he said. "I will say yes, the report was commissioned by Bayer with that funding, but all the inputs, analysis and conclusions were very much an independent study of Aimpoint."

Find the full report here: https://report.aimpointresearch.com/….

Jason Jenkins can be reached at jason.jenkins@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @JasonJenkinsDTN

Jason Jenkins