Pre-harvest glyphosate access slipping away

The noose continues to tighten around glyphosate as more companies refuse to buy grain that has had a pre-harvest application.

Three recent examples have materialized. These are in addition to the oat and pulse crop buyers that have been shunning crop treated with glyphosate for the past few years.

Roquette, the company building a $400 million pea fractionation facility at Portage la Prairie, Man., has announced the identity-preserved (IP) production system it will use for contracting its pea supply. Along with requiring certified seed, an environmental farm plan, three quick production reports through the year and no soybeans on the field for the past two years, suppliers will not be able to use pre-harvest glyphosate or diquat (Reglone).

Pre-harvest glyphosate isn’t supposed to be used as a crop desiccant, but pre-harvest use is a good control measure for many perennial weeds. Diquat, on the other hand, is a true desiccant for terminating crop growth.

You can’t blame Roquette for wanting to eliminate herbicide residues. The United States maximum residue limit is quite low for diquat, and glyphosate is being demonized even when the residue is way below allowable limits.

Producers will weigh the production requirements against the price premium Roquette is offering, but the Portage location is working against its IP requirements. There are many drier regions of the Prairies growing lots of peas that have less need for pre-harvest products. Plus those areas aren’t growing soybeans, which are almost impossible to separate from yellow peas.

Example two in the recent glyphosate banning bandwagon is Barilla, the worldwide pasta manufacturer. Greg Viers of Barilla America talked about the company’s sustainability project at the Prairie Cereals Summit held in Banff, Alta., in December. He also referred to it during the January 30 Durum Summit held in Swift Current, Sask.

The company is offering a premium for durum that has low glyphosate residue. In future years, the residue limit will continue to drop as the company responds to consumer concerns. At least Barilla realizes that producers need to be compensated to change production practices. However, you have to wonder if no pre-harvest use will eventually become the norm.

Number three is Kellogg’s. Known for its breakfast cereals, the iconic company has reportedly bowed to a shareholder pressure group with a commitment to phase out pre-harvest glyphosate on its oat and wheat purchases by the end of 2025.

Disturbingly, Kellogg refers to glyphosate as a “pre-harvest drying agent” for wheat and oats. This is propagating a popular misconception. If glyphosate is used according to recommendations, crops are nearly mature before application and there is little or no crop dry-down achieved. Correspondingly, there should be a minimal amount of residue in the seed.

Unfortunately, consumers don’t understand maximum residue limits. For them, any residue is wrong and they don’t differentiation between parts per million and parts per billion.

Sadly, some crops that never see a pre-harvest glyphosate application are going to show trace amounts. Testing has advanced to the stage where you can find minute traces of almost anything anywhere.

The Keep-it-Clean campaign urges farmers not to apply glyphosate until the seed is below 30 percent moisture in the least mature plants in the field. Alas, the campaign is too little, too late.

While glyphosate may continue to be registered for pre-harvest application in the U.S. and Canada, buyers are steadily limiting our marketing options even when the product is used properly.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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