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Grains & Cropping

11 November, 2020

Opinion: Glyphosate needs to be in ag’s future

"I believe we still need to strongly support the positive science behind our use of glyphosate in our Australian farming systems. (Note I said our Australian farming systems.)"

By Paul McIntosh AGRONOMIST

Chickpeas in northern NSW in the spring of 2020 in a swathing windrowing trial.
Chickpeas in northern NSW in the spring of 2020 in a swathing windrowing trial.

THERE is a saying that if you stay around long enough, you see most things and in my case that is appearing to be true.

I have been doing a few talks about the possibility of farming in the future without glyphosate and other herbicides.

I believe we still need to strongly support the positive science behind our use of glyphosate in our Australian farming systems. (Note I said our Australian farming systems.)

So that leaves a big question mark over the home garden market use patterns, which is quite a large volume in our Aussie communities.

So how does my supporting the correct and safe practical use of our number one herbicide in glyphosate, connect with the photo here? More importantly what sort of a crop is this on the ground in these long rows?

Well it is our favourite winter pulse crop of desi chickpeas and normally at this time of year, you see them in their normal pattern of being upright and brown to various shades of green.

As this annual chickpea plant matures somewhat irregularly and patchy, we have conventionally gone and sprayed the paddock with some knockdown herbicides like glyphosate as one example.

This makes harvesting easier, along with better quality chickpeas in the header bin. Now this is all very legal and duly registered practice in many countries including Australia.  Most importing countries have an MRL (maximum residue level) as we do, and this amount is talked about as 0.01mg per kilo or whatever number is decided for these minute residues of pesticide. 

When an importing country decides to have a zero tolerance to a particular pesticide, they state the MRL as 0.00 mg per kilo.

In other words, even a trace of a specific pesticide means rejection of that load or import consignment of crop type.

Now I see as a peculiarity the current state of affairs that USA has a 0.00 mg per kilo or nil tolerance level to many of our pulse crop exports to them, yet many crops like soybean and other pulse crops in the US are regularly sprayed pre harvest with glyphosate.

So, with increasing world scrutiny on glyphosate use in any use practice, my thoughts and actions have been to look at ways of farming, whilst reducing the amount of glyphosate used in crop.

Now in the last summer of 2019/20 the Australian Mungbean Association have conducted replicated plot trials on a whole range of herbicides including known organic ones, plus swathing plot trials.

This gave me some encouragement and subsequently a friend and former farmer client in Farmer Greg actually did an entire paddock in swathing of mung beans.

It all worked very well and successfully and backed up exactly what we saw in the UQ swathing trials, conducted by well know weeds researcher in Bhagirath Chauhan.

So, if it works in mung beans, could it work in our chickpea crops?

Here it is and I commend the northern NSW farmer who has given it a fairly large commercial trial.

This is what I saw earlier this week after quite a deal of rain had fallen on these swathed rows of chickpeas.

Unsure how it is going to turnout, due to the recent rain events, however there is certainly a fair few pods separated from the bush and lying in the wet top soil.

This swathed windrow of chickpeas is so thick, it is acting like garden mulch and keeping soils and organic matter very damp. Plus, our chickpea pods with seeds in them, which is not good.

Typically, when you get the grease guns out for the header in harvest preparation, it begins to rain and I am quite sure that this is not what we wanted on the new potential desiccation process called swathing or windowing in our chickpea crops.

On this occasion, rain events on swathed chickpeas, may not be a good thing and conventional desiccation with a herbicide maybe a more profitable way to proceed for our bold farmer.

Time will tell when we finally get it off the paddock into a silo.

Glyphosate use in our farming systems is still very much needed and applied with huge benefits in maintaining our soil structure and moisture retention, as well as massive reductions in water or wind erosion levels in our fallow country.

Time will tell what our Aussie farming community will achieve in new farming practices in the future with the help and backing of science and of course, old agronomists chipping in as well.


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