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Opinion: David Walston, managing director, Thriplow Farms, Cambridge

arable

It is impossible to go onto Twitter at the moment without having your screen melt down with one of the most extreme examples of preaching to the converted I have ever seen: the campaign to save glyphosate from being banned by the EU and the hashtag #glyphosateisvital.

 

Farmers are loving telling each other what a disaster we are facing – and for good reason. We use plenty of of the stuff, it is a key part of the way we work, and losing it would be a massive shock to the system. I personally believe it would be worse not just for my pocket, but the environment as well.

 

I cannot help feel uneasy with the way my farming comrades are getting more and more shrill and hysterical by the day. Firstly, the definition of vital is ‘absolutely necessary or essential’, and clearly this is not actually true for glyphosate. It was invented only a few decades ago, and I am told on good authority people managed to farm before then.

 

Even today, rumour has it there are successful farming systems which work without glyphosate, some even say they produce better quality food. So really, it is fairly clear cut glyphosate is not actually vital at all. Trying to pretend otherwise is no better than someone else claiming it is highly toxic and gives puppies cancer.

 

Staking out the ‘scientific evidence’ high ground is a great idea, but please let us not undo the good work by letting the hyperbole get out of control. Secondly, I take issue with the message ‘we cannot keep on farming like we do without glyphosate’.

 

Twitter is full of the ‘conservation agriculture brigade’ showing us how ground nesting birds love not being disturbed by cultivating their nests every year, or how cover crops are putting carbon back into the soil. This type of farming is a real minority in the UK, and let us face facts; there are some bad farming practices going on and most of these will be making heavy use of glyphosate.

 

An example of this might be the countless times I have seen someone complain their farm would be overrun with black-grass if they could not use glyphosate. When I hear this, I cannot help but think of the old Einstein chestnut, ‘Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results’. Is time to think about how a farming system can be made better to get around our problems, rather than hammering the same pesticide buttons over and over again each year?

 

So, next time the blood begins to boil as another celebrity calls for signatures to ban your favourite pesticide, do not be tempted to crank up the hyperbole generator and do not start shouting how you need your drug fix like you have always had before. Behave like a grown up and stick to facts.

 

Is glyphosate safe? Probably. Can it allow us to farm better? Yes. Is it vital? No.

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