The agriculture industry is watching the European Union to determine the fate of glyphosate as a tool for farmers.
Glyphosate, known by the trade name Roundup, has been used as an herbicide for 40 years to rid farm fields of weeds. More recently, it has also been used in conjunction with a handful of genetically modified “Roundup Ready” crops that are resistant to it. This allows farmers to kill weeds without killing the crops.
Use of the chemical will be up for renewal in the EU in the next few years.
Many food companies will follow the EU, said Dalton Henry, vice president of policy for U.S. Wheat Associates, the overseas marketing arm of the industry. They want to be able to export finished products to those countries.
The EU would need to consider an import tolerance, allowing for a small amount of residue, under World Trade Organization rules.
“They can’t just ban it because they don’t like it, they’re going to have to provide sound science as to why that action would need to be taken,” Henry said.
Chemical weed control, especially the use of glyphosate, is critical to minimum-tillage or no-till wheat farming and is used to kill weeds or cover crops. No glyphosate-resistant wheat is commercially available.
U.S. Wheat advocates for the safety and benefits of allowing farmers to use the chemicals, he said.
Henry spoke July 14 in an online presentation hosted by the Idaho Wheat Commission and Oregon Wheat Commission. The topic was tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, which impact farmers’ ability to get their wheat to customers around the world.
Retaliatory tariffs make the headlines, Henry said. Tariffs are government-to-government matters, and the industry asks U.S. farmers and overseas customers to lobby their respective governments.
Non-tariff barriers require a whole-industry approach, Henry said. They include pesticide maximum residue limits called MRLs, weed seeds, smuts or spores and mycotoxins.
Wheat is shipped in 50,000-60,000 ton vessels. Individual farmers are a small part of that, but if a chemical is ever misused or misapplied, it can create problems, Henry said.
“Making sure we’re staying within label instructions is particularly key,” he said.
The industry relies on science indicating expected residues down the line when applied according to label rates.
“If we go to argue with other countries about where an MRL may be too restrictive, that’s the science we have to point to,” Henry said.
While it’s never been easy to ship wheat overseas, Henry doesn’t believe it’s going to get “dramatically” harder either, pointing to projections for global population growth.
“It’s still a hungry world,” he said. “Many of our customers are still countries where ‘calories’ is the largest demand beyond anything.”
The biggest trade barrier growers face is lack of understanding of science among consuming populations and importing agencies, he said.
“At some point, we’re going to have to square all of the things consumers are demanding from U.S. growers and corporate food companies with the reality of how products are traded and handled,” he said. “If you want to make demands about sustainability of production, you’ve got to allow farmers access to the best technology that’s out there.”