The fall in the value of sterling and no pre-harvest forward sales had left me feeling pretty smug. My marketing inactivity was a piece of inspired genius, and the uplift in grain prices is going at least some way to mitigate the disappointing yield from last harvest.
Mindful of the currency impact on input prices, I have been buying early for spring crop treatments. A re-assessment of glyphosate stocks highlighted a top up was prudent – the shock was an increase in price of 24% since three months ago. But the biggest shock and impact on the business might be yet to come.
We are all aware glyphosate is in the spotlight; the failure of a European Commission Standing Committee to achieve reauthorisation in June 2016 led to a last-minute extension for 18 months while further data was gathered. With the process to be completed by December 31 we have only nine months left to make the case for the continued use of glyphosate in the EU.
For crop farmers this is a really big deal; some have told me the impact on their business and cropping from the loss of glyphosate could be more radical than the outcome from Brexit.
For more than 40 years farmers have used glyphosate in a safe and responsible way. But when International Agency for Research on Cancer somewhat controversially classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ some organisations, often with anti-GM agendas, saw this as an opportunity to remove glyphosate, from some markets. This classification put glyphosate on an equivalent level of cancer hazard as working as a hairdresser and being of lower hazard than sunlight and alcohol. But we’ve seen a series of campaigns based on fake news and emotion rather than weight of evidence developed.
What had been conveniently, perhaps deliberately, forgotten was the basic principle established by the father of toxicology Paracelsus: “The dose makes the poison.”
When we examine published information on hazard we know glyphosate is less toxic than caffeine, table salt, aspirin and ibuprofen. If you try to help the barley market and overdo the beer or whisky one night you might feel the need for a strong coffee, aspirin or bacon sandwich the next morning. All of these carry a higher risk to you than the glyphosate which might have been used in the growing of the barley.
It is critical during the rest of 2017 that we are present with the public and politicians at a national and European level, highlighting facts about the benefits glyphosate delivers and that used appropriately it is safe. Farmers who use Twitter have already been using #glyphosateisvital to good effect. Some farmer tweets were picked up by a campaigner against GMOs and used in an article in the Huffington Post claiming it was somehow part of a campaign orchestrated by Monsanto; perhaps this reaction may be an indication we have started to make an impact.
Are you ready to play your part? The NFU can arm you with some key facts, you can tell it as it is on your farm, put some perspective into the issue and show you care for our health and our environment. Whether they know it or not, everyone understands risk and hazard; our appetite for it may vary, but everyone makes decisions on risk every day.
Engage wherever you can, it doesn’t have to be on social media, spread the word when you’re at the rugby club, talking to other parents on the school run, or wherever an opportunity arises. Speak up now, in just a few months it could be too late.