Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/7/2019 (189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The message this week to farmers from councils representing key commodities grown on Canadian farms was clear: don’t shoot yourselves in the foot for the sake of expediency.
The Canola Council of Canada, Cereals Canada and Pulse Canada jointly issued a release calling on farmers to stop treating the commonly used herbicide glyphosate as a desiccant — a substance used as a drying agent.
"Glyphosate is an effective tool for pre-harvest perennial weed control, but is not to be used as a desiccant," Greg Bartley, manager for crop protection and crop quality at Pulse Canada, said in a release.
"Improper or off-label use can leave residues that exceed maximum allowable limits and put crop marketability at risk."
It’s a fine line that some farmers still dare to cross.
Hence the now-annual campaign, complete with a website that offers farmers tips and calculator tools to support the right decision.
Glyphosate, also known as Roundup but sold under numerous generic labels, can help control weeds that are still growing when the crop is ready to harvest.
Those green and growing weeds can plug up equipment and affect stored grain quality as they decompose in the bin. Herbicides are used to kill them so they are dried down at the time of harvest.
But it can also have a desiccant effect on the crop — even though this herbicide was not intended for that, and there are products registered as desiccants for that purpose.
The problem that’s created when farmers use glyphosate in that way is that it can leave residues in the seed, which will cause some customers to reject it.
It can also affect the processing characteristics of the crop. Malting barley buyers and some oat processors will not buy commodities that have been treated pre-harvest with the herbicide.
On crops such as canola, farmers are advised to use glyphosate to go after those green weeds only when the least mature areas of the field are virtually dry (less than 30 per cent moisture) and ready for harvest. They must also adhere to a pre-harvest interval — usually around seven days — before proceeding with harvest.
Seven days can seem excruciatingly long when you have a lot of acres to harvest in a short time. However, the warnings are clear for those farmers tempted to bend the rules.
For starters, customers are watching. There are different standards for residues in place in different parts of the world. But whatever those standards are, the ability to detect residues is like never before.
The technology in use today can pick residues at one part per billion — the equivalent of nine seeds in a super-B truckload. If the allowable limit is zero, which is the case in many countries, that whole load would be rejected.
As Prairie farmers know from their experiences with China lately, buyers aren’t afraid to walk away from a supplier. And there is not much you can do to force a customer to buy from you.
Despite its benefits, glyphosate has become like the poster child for all that is wrong with modern agriculture in non-farmers’ eyes.
With consumer groups now testing processed foods for residues, processors are on high alert.
"We know that glyphosate is under increased customer scrutiny, but by using the product correctly, growers can help to ensure the quality and safety of Canadian canola, cereals and pulse crops, and keep markets open for all," Brenna Mahoney, director of communications and stakeholder relations at Cereals Canada, said in this week’s appeal to farmers.
Regulators are watching, too. "This level of scrutiny has the potential to impact the way the product can be used in Canada in the future. By following the steps listed above, Canadian farmers can do their part to demonstrate responsible product use and protect the investments they have made in their crop," the statement said.
The message is getting through. Gone are the days when extension workers and farmers followed a "wink wink, nudge nudge" protocol when discussing off-label uses of products.
The risk of being called out and the cost of a customer rejection are too high.
Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.