How Much Roundup Do Farmers Actually Use?

A lot of consumers have concerns about Roundup (aka glyphosate). Yesterday we once again were bombarded with attacks on the much-maligned herbicide in the yearly “March Against Monsanto”. Many will also remember the World Health Organization’s classification of glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”. When faced with such a maelstrom of public disapproval (even if it is a vocal minority) it’s very difficult to separate fact from fiction. What is right and what is wrong? Is glyphosate dangerous? If so, should farmers be allowed to use it at all?

I think the best way to cut through such a deluge of hostile press is to delve into the facts about this much-maligned chemical. I keep hearing how we farmers “douse” our crops with glyphosate; that we apply massive quantities with no concept of safety, ignoring label rates, and simply apply it as many times as we want to whatever crop we want.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s the reality.

Is Glyphosate Toxic?

Roundup JugGlyphosate is one of the safest herbicides ever developed for mass use. It is a non-selective (meaning it kills most plants) chemical that targets and blocks the so-called shikimic acid pathway. This is required for amino acid synthesis in plants. Without amino acids, plants wilt and die from starvation. Since the shikimite pathway is not found in humans, glyphosate is of very low toxicity (read more here).

Now, science jargon aside, if you consume enough glyphosate, yes, it will be poisonous. Of course, it would take quite a lot; the LD50 (lethal dose for 50% of test animals) of glyphosate is 5,600 mg/kg. That’s over 5.6 grams of glyphosate for every kilogram you weigh. You weigh 80 kg? You would need to consume 450 grams (that’s half a kilogram, or close to a pound) of glyphosate in one sitting for a potentially lethal dose. If you’re consuming that much of anything I’d say you should be concerned (read more here).

How Much Do We Use?

Below is a picture I took of a typical rate of glyphosate. In that Gatorade bottle there is 600 mL of Roundup. That little bottle will treat one acre of land. Now, I understand that an acre is a little hard to visualize. One acre is 43,560 square feet, or about three quarters of an American football field. That 600 mL spread over one acre amounts to .014 mL per square foot. That doesn’t sound like much, does it?

DSC_0751

Here’s the other thing; most of the Roundup we spray in a year doesn’t get sprayed on crops at all. We use it to clean fields up before seeding and after harvest. Yes, some Roundup Ready crops get glyphosate throughout the season (e.g. canola, soybeans), but that really only amounts to about 20% of our acres. And even then, we are only talking about one or two applications per year to growing crops.

The reality is we simply don’t use that much glyphosate on a per-acre basis. Is glyphosate the only herbicide we use? Of course not! We use a variety of pesticides on our farm to control a variety of pests. Do we still need glyphosate? Unquestionably yes. Without it, no-till would be next to impossible. We would be forced to go back to tillage to clean our fields before seeding. That would be an environmental tragedy.

DSC_0743
This is just an example of the numerous products we use in a year.  You can see a combination of herbicides and a fungicide, each one useful for different problem pests. This is only a sample of the variety of chemicals we use.

All of these products are used to control weeds, diseases, insects and so on. We need them all to keep each of our many different crops clean; but glyphosate is still the base we build our entire year upon. It is the one herbicide that controls them all. That is why careful management of it, and creative tank mixes with products like tribenuron, sulfentrazone, carfentrazone and so on is so important to ensure its long-term survival. Tank mixing other chemistries makes it much more difficult for weeds to become resistant – the infamous “superweed”.

Nikon J1 204The concerns about so-called superweeds are real, to a degree. Yes, too much glyphosate spraying on the same land over too many years can cause weed resistance. However, too much tillage on the same land year over year can actually cause the same problem; it is far from unique to glyphosate and GMOs (read more here). Any pest can and will become resistant to a control measure over time; it’s natural selection at work.

Separating Fact From Fear

I realize how difficult it is to separate facts from fear. There is a lot of data, a lot of studies, and a lot of people with an agenda pushing you to believe one thing or another.

If you don’t trust anyone else, trust farmers. We use this stuff, and have for decades. We wouldn’t put ourselves, our families, and our customers at risk if we believed glyphosate and other pesticides were truly dangerous. I use glyphosate and other pesticides because I believe the benefits outweigh the risks. I believe they are the best tool we have to look after our land in a sustainable fashion.

The reality is you are the one buying what we’re growing. It is your choice. Just know that glyphosate, despite all the hostile attacks on its safety, is one of humankind’s greatest achievements. This venerable herbicide, with nearly 40 years of use behind it, is still one of the most important tools we farmers possess. It allows us to control weeds without threatening the future of our soils. The dose makes the poison, and at the rates we apply this incredibly low-toxicity herbicide, you have nothing to fear.

 

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11 thoughts on “How Much Roundup Do Farmers Actually Use?

  1. Brennon Archdekin May 24, 2016 / 4:41 pm

    Great read. I think it’s great that you write and publish these articles. Keep up the great work.

    • Jake May 24, 2016 / 4:41 pm

      Thanks Brennon!

  2. Alvin Brooks June 20, 2016 / 6:17 pm

    Good explanation . Glyphosate has saved millions of liters of fuel and millions of tonnes of top soil. No other herbicide a lower environmental foot print. It’s low effective use rate allows other supporting herbicides to be used at lower rates benefiting the environment .

  3. GiGi June 23, 2016 / 7:12 pm

    Hi, I live next to a farm and today they were spraying in the wind and using a white chemical that looked like milk. The mist from the spray was very thick like what you would see at a dam at a lake. I was watching from the window and the milk like substance was splashing out of the sprayer. That’s how I know it was white. Any idea what it might be? Thanks for the blog and all your hard work as a farmer. The field may have been 20 acres. You wouldn’t think a tiny field like that would have such a lingering chemical smell. The sprayer was almost bigger than the field. ha ha ha ha. I’m hoping it was a good thing they sprayed and I can reap the benefits. Oh good just found it was weed killer. Good deal now I won’t have to weed. Yay!

    • John July 1, 2016 / 6:12 pm

      If you can see the colour of the liquid from your window then it is most likely not applied with a sprayer but with a tanker. Especially if the “sprayer” was bigger than the field it’s probably a tanker. White liquids that are applied in high rates are usually bio waste materials or soil enhancers like calcium, paper (mill) waste etc. In that same tanker they can put brown stuff that smells, that is manure.
      Nothing to worry about!

      • GiGi July 1, 2016 / 7:59 pm

        Thanks sweetie…lol yes I sure know manure when I see it and smell it. Actually the owner said it was weed killer that they put on the crops next door. I think I included that in my previous comment. Thanks for the info.. bless ya! It was 132′ boom on a huge Case and it did have a tank. “Case” as in brand of tractor. Owner was probably just testing out a new toy. Great people.

      • joe bob August 2, 2017 / 11:56 am

        Or one of many other herbicides, Atrizene is white when mixed so is Accent.

  4. Dronepedia January 5, 2017 / 3:06 pm

    “What is right and what is wrong? Is glyphosate dangerous?”

    I do not know is it good idea to ask about that statement in first paragraph. Do you think it is good idea to use drones in order to spread the glyphosate? Because of it is developed for mass use, in term the effectiveness when spraying on the land, maybe it could save time or save the man power cost.

    • Jake January 5, 2017 / 3:55 pm

      I suspect drones are indeed the future of crop spraying. Sprayers are getting bigger and heavier all the time, and compaction is a real concern. Up and coming technology should provide sensors to allow for more precise herbicide applications, which should pave the way for smaller, more targeted applications. In the short term though (and maybe the moderate term) drones simply don’t have the capacity to conduct large scale field applications.

  5. Galadriel February 6, 2017 / 12:51 am

    Ive read that glyphosate may not kill me over the 10 years of eating it in my food, but that it damages gut flora. Our good bacteria. Leaving our immune systems weaker and triggering auto immune disorders and allergies.
    These companies also said that DDT was harmless too only to find out that it causes cancer. These companies will say what they want.
    Asbestos was also a great new achievement, so they say.
    Quit messing with our food. I will never buy anything that is not organic. And whilst even eating organic, you can’t always be sure that these roundup farms aren’t polluting all of the soil and groundwater around the organic farms. At least I won’t be getting something that is grown from a gmo, roundup resistant, seed.
    Just absolutely awful what these companies are doing to the land water and our health.

    • Jake February 8, 2017 / 5:19 pm

      The question you need to ask yourself is this: where did you read this information? Was it in a peer-reviewed journal article? Was it written by a journalist who looked at the issue with a critical eye, referencing said journal articles? Or was it something you found on a blog post, or a lifestyle website, or something like that?

      You must carefully consider where the data is coming from. There is no peer-reviewed journal article that has shown glyphosate damages the gut flora. Provide the link to your article.
      One other thing – DDT was actually not shown to cause cancer; in fact, it was so safe you could eat it (and a group of scientists did this). While it was a chemical doomed to failure at some point (resistance and build-up in the environment), its ban caused millions of the world’s poor to die from malaria.

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