Calls for an outright ban on glyphosate use in Argentina’s ag sector are gaining momentum, creating great uncertainty for soybean farmers here.
While environmental groups have long targeted glyphosate, research published in 2009 by Argentine government scientist Professor Andrés Carrasco claimed the herbicide caused abnormalities in frog and chicken embryos, igniting the debate.
In March 2010, a judge in San Jorge, Santa Fe province, ruled that glyphosate use be banned within 875 yards of family homes. And recently a bill was introduced in the federal Congress to ban its use within 109 yards of urban areas. Some legislators in Buenos Aires province are seeking a 10-year phaseout of glyphosate. Town dwellers in the soybean belt are also engaging in direct action. Last July, a group of residents in Junín, Buenos Aires province, tried to stop the spraying of the herbicide.
Víctor Trucco, a biochemist and honorary president of AAPRESID, the Argentine No-till Association, says, “It’s a fallacy to say that the herbicide produces defects and cancer. There is no robust scientific evidence to back this up.”
Argentina’s emergence as the third-largest global soybean producer in the last 30 years is due in large part to the technological trio of no-till farming, Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and glyphosate.
Since glyphosate requires only one application, it’s created huge cost savings for Argentine farmers. RR soybeans and glyphosate have also raised productivity by enabling double-cropping.
Miguel Cacciurri, an agronomist in Venado Tuerto, Santa Fe province, says, “There are not many products that can replace glyphosate and prove less harmful. The sector would have to revert to using more toxic herbicides, which are more costly and require more water resources. As long as glyphosate is applied under the supervision of a qualified agronomist, as required by the law of Santa Fe province, it’s perfectly safe.”
If there were an outright ban, it would decimate Argentina’s soybean sector. Production would fall below 20% of current levels, says Trucco. This would benefit U.S. farmers by boosting international soybean prices.
The U.S. EPA classifies glyphosate as low toxicity. But banning or restricting its use in Argentina could lead to calls among environmental and health lobbies for similar measures in the U.S.
While some restrictions may be introduced near urban centers, which will limit production, Cacciurri doesn’t believe there will be a total ban on its use. “As a principal input into the production of soybeans, which the government depends on for a large part of taxation revenue, if there is no glyphosate there will be no soybean production and no revenue for government.”
This is echoed by Marcelo Marelli, an agronomist in Pergamino, Buenos Aires province. “Given the fundamental role soybeans play in the Argentine economy, it’s impossible to ban the use of glyphosate,” he says.
This is part of a series on agriculture in Argentina by John Kennedy, a writer and economic consultant. You can contact him at [email protected].