I am not a scientist or a knowledgeable environmentalist and I have nothing against organically grown crops. However, I am a farmer who cares about our soil, bugs, creatures, wildlife and the environment and I have been thinking about the glyphosate debate. Is it better to use it or not?
If we are to grow crops in the UK which are affordable to the general public then I think Glyphosate is necessary and is better for the environment than other options. If Glyphosate were banned then to prepare a field for drilling a new crop we would have to either use other, possibly stronger but less effective, chemicals or increase our cultivations.
The reasons for not pursuing the first option are perhaps obvious - less effective chemicals could lead to weeds mutating and becoming resistant to chemicals which means we would bring about a need for stronger chemicals to do a less effective job in the future. This would be a vicious circle.
Option 2 is, in my opinion, worse for the environment. Dragging heavy metal through the soil is hard work for a tractor, so a lot of diesel is used in the process. Also, cultivating soil releases carbon into the atmosphere which I would imagine isn’t great for the environment either. Finally, as this method is not hugely effective, it requires many repeat cultivations to kill the weeds and prepare the seed bed. The end result is perhaps more pollution than using 1 pass of glyphosate.
On another note, Mr Gove seems to be pushing farmers towards using more cover crops in their rotations, as he believes this is more environmentally friendly and leads to greater soil health. These thick green crops need to be killed before the real crop can be drilled. Crimping (aggressive rolling of crops after a frost to kill the cover crop prior to drilling) can be effective if the circumstances are correct, but it appears that this method cannot be relied upon, as we will not always have a frost exactly when our drilling dates require.
So all in all, I believe that Conservation Agriculture does require Glyphosate to ensure that farming is both environmentally friendly and productive so that the world’s population can eat food at affordable prices and live in a world with reduced pollution.