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August 20, 2018

Ban on Roundup could cause Massive Problems for Brazil Farmers

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

The decision by a Brazilian judge on August 3rd to ban the use of Roundup herbicide pending the reevaluation of toxicology studies, could have an immediate and adverse impact on Brazilian agriculture. That is the opinion of Brazil's Minister of Agriculture, Blairo Maggi, as he spoke to reporters on the sideline of the World Soil Science Congress held in Rio de Janeiro last week.

The Minister of Agriculture is reported to be teaming up with the Solicitor General of Brazil to appeal the judge's ruling all the way to the Brazilian Supreme Court if necessary. The ruling will be "set-in-stone" so to speak when it is published in the Official Registry thirty days after the judge's announcement. Therefore, there is a 30-day window for appeals. In addition to the Minister, virtually every farm organization in Brazil has severely criticized the judge for making such a consequential decision that could ruin people's businesses and lives without getting input from those individuals directly impacted.

According to Minister Maggi, 95% of the soybeans in Brazil are Roundup Ready that utilize Roundup herbicide to control weeds. In addition to weed control, Roundup is an essential component of no-till soybean production, which is when soybeans are planted directly into existing crop residue or cover vegetation. Generally, the cover vegetation is killed with Roundup herbicide before the soybeans are planted.

Over the years, no-till soybean production has greatly reduced the amount of soil erosion associated with soybean production in southern Brazil. The state of Parana for example has very hilly terrane and prior to the advent of no-till soybean production, farmers would prepare their fields ahead of the first summer rains. The fields would be bare of vegetation or ground cover when the first rains occurred and the result was a tremendous amount of soil erosion. No-till soybean production has almost completely eliminated that erosion because the soil is always covered by crop residue or vegetation. If the Roundup ban persists, then soil erosion in Brazil will increase.

No-till crop production reduces soil erosion, improves the fertility of the soil, improves the organic matter content of the soil, requires less fertilizer, reduces the amount of fertilizers washing of the field into nearby rivers, and it is a critical part of sustainable agriculture, which is what everybody wants.

If a field is in a cover crop and the farmer is not allowed to use a burn-down herbicide such as Roundup, he must then plow up the vegetation to prepare the seedbed. Many farmers who practice no-till production do not even own plows or disks any longer because they have not used them for many years. Therefore, it would be very difficult for a farmer who practices no-till production to plant his soybeans without the use of a burn-down herbicide such as Roundup.

Brazilian soybean fields are generally extremely free of weeds. You really have to look to find weeds in Brazilian soybeans. The use of Roundup makes weed control cheaper and easier. Weeds can be controlled by other herbicides of course, but it takes more time and management skills because the alternative herbicides must be applied at very specific times, whereas Roundup can be applied to Roundup Ready soybeans at any time after planting. So a farmer can "plant like crazy" to get his crop planted during the opportune window and then go back sometime later to apply his weed control.

Such a sudden ban on the use of Roundup herbicide, would send farmers scrambling for alternatives that may not be available. As a result, it is entire possible that the judge's decision to ban Roundup could result in lower soybean yields due to increased weed pressures.

The entire agricultural sector is up in arms over the judge's decision. They contend that if they want to ban a product that is essential to agricultural production such as Roundup, it must be done gradually over a period of several years as other alternatives become available. It can't be done instantaneously overnight especially a few days before farmers would start to use the product.

The Minister also made a very interesting observation. He commented that if a farmer had to decide between disobeying the judge and using Roundup which he has already purchased, or obeying the judge and risking his soybean production, the majority of farmers would conduct civil disobedience and use Roundup in their soybean production.