Colin Hurst, Federated Farmers Arable Industry Group Chairperson
The news that the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) requires all honey exports to Japan to undergo glyphosate testing, has again generated media comment about the safety of its ongoing use.
Those in the primary sector are glyphosate’s primary users, but it is also commonly used for weed control by home gardeners, the forestry sector and regional and local level government. It is used because it controls a broad spectrum of grass weeds and other broad-leafed weeds.
In the arable industry, glyphosate can be used as a late season control as part of a herbicide resistance programme. Waiting until after harvest to apply glyphosate can result in less effective weed knock down. To ensure it is effective, the herbicide must be applied when the weeds are growing.
There are two logistical problems associated with waiting until after harvest: weeds have by then stopped actively growing and application is likely to be ineffective; and second, harvest residue can cover weeds, which makes it difficult for the applicator to make contact with the intended target.
Glyphosate is also used by farmers who prefer the no-till approach. Spraying out a paddock with glyphosate removes the existing cover and allows the establishment of new crops or pasture. This enables direct drilling of seeds into the soil and is an alternative to cultivation, ploughing and power harrowing preferred by some farmers.
There is some anecdotal evidence which suggests glyphosate is used as a harvest aid in wet seasons. But this is an exception rather than a rule. In a wet season, getting even crop ripening is extremely difficult. Unlike vegetable or fruit harvesting, arable farmers are unable to “cherry pick” the ripest parts of the crop to harvest first and come back for the rest at a later date.
The role that bees and beekeepers play in the primary sector is not taken for granted by arable farmers. We are world leaders in seed production and these seed crops such as carrots and other brassicas require pollination by bees. Hence beekeepers are contracted to provide pollination services on farm. Given the importance of bees and beekeepers on an arable farm, arable farmers will take all practical steps to maintain bee health.
At Federated Farmers we have continued to undertake proactive steps to promote bee friendly planting such as the Trees for Bees project. We are consistently monitoring and sharing industry-approved best practice information relating to agrichemicals and pollination through our various channels.
The Bee Industry Group was one of Federated Farmer’s seven industry groups, until unification of the National Beekeepers Association and Federated Farmers Bee Industry Group created Apiculture New Zealand.
We have a running dialogue with Apiculture New Zealand around communicating important messages around pollinator safety with farmers and beekeepers.
The use of glyphosate continues to come under significant pressure from some stakeholder groups. But all chemical use is regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), under the HSNO Act and now by Worksafe.
Some supply contracts will now have chemical use clauses built into them. An example of this is that milling wheat and malting barley contracts clearly specify that glyphosate cannot be used pre-harvest.
New Zealand growers, therefore, need to ensure that their agrichemical use meets a growing list of health and safety, Growsafe, contract requirements, and other quality assurance scheme requirements.
There is a significant volume of cereal grain imported into New Zealand used in the human and animal food supply chain that is not subjected to these same criteria.