The Facts About Glyphosate, Part 1: How Do Wheat Growers Use Glyphosate?

The Facts About Glyphosate, Part 1: How Do Wheat Growers Use Glyphosate?

This blog is the first in a five-part series, titled “The Facts About Glyphosate”, sharing the facts about glyphosate and its use in the production of wheat in the United States.

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Wheat production occurs in the United States across 42 states, in a wide array of weather conditions. Wheat growers face many challenges to growing a quality crop that is sustainable and economically viable. Growers are faced with threats to the viability of the crop from many pests across these 42 states. One of these pests is weeds. Glyphosate is one product commonly used by wheat growers that is very effective at controlling grass weeds prior to planting or after wheat is harvested.

The Facts: What is Glyphosate?

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in many “non-selective” herbicide formulations used to control weeds. A non-selective herbicide controls most plants while a selective herbicide is designed to control specific types of plants. Non-Selective herbicides are used to control weeds before crop planting.

Glyphosate-based herbicides are frequently used by farmers because they are a simple and cost-effective way of controlling many types of weeds, but glyphosate-based products are popular outside of agriculture, too. They are also commonly used to control weeds in gardens and around lawns. Similar to the grass on a homeowner’s lawn, if glyphosate (frequently sold as Roundup®) is used on the lawn (or crop field), the grass will die. Glyphosate is used to control weeds, and the application is targeted.

The Facts: Is Glyphosate safe to use?

This common herbicide ingredient continues to be scrutinized by regulatory agencies to insure it is safe and can be used without any harmful impact to humans and the environment. It has been thoroughly reviewed and registered by regulatory agencies around the world. It is registered in more than 100 countries, has been on the market for four decades. It is backed by one of the most extensive worldwide human health, safety and environmental databases ever compiled for a crop protection product. U.S. laws, established to ensure the safety of the food we eat and protect those that use crop protection tools such as glyphosate, dictate how farmers, homeowners and other land managers can uses these products to ensure they are safe.

While there are many false claims about glyphosate and its safety risk, the truth is regulatory and scientific authorities worldwide have concluded that glyphosate, when used according to label directions, does not pose an unreasonable risk to human health, the environment, or non-target animals and plants.

The Facts: Glyphosate Use in Wheat is Limited

Glyphosate use is limited in the wheat industry, if even used at all in some wheat fields. In fact, for 2016, it was applied to 33 percent of wheat acres in the U.S., according to an independent consumer research firm, GfK. Typically, glyphosate application in wheat occurs during fallow times when a growing, eventually harvestable wheat crop is not present. The application rate and use of glyphosate in wheat is dependent on other production methods, such as no-till and minimum till planting systems.

The percentage of acres managed as no-till has increased by more than 15 percent in the last 26 years in the Great Plains region of the U.S. This shift has led to an observed increase of glyphosate use in the industry to help control weeds and preserve soil moisture; however, applications are still low compared to other commodity crops. Control of weeds also suppresses the spread of viruses affecting wheat, which helps to maintain the quality and yield of wheat produced.

There are four potential uses for glyphosate in wheat, with the first two listed as most common:

  1. Applications before planting, at planting, and after planting but before wheat emergence ensures minimal weed competition occurs throughout the growing season. This practice is most common in no-till systems.
  1. Fallow applications, as mentioned previously, are made following harvest when no crop is present to keep weeds from using precious soil moisture. This is most commonly practiced in the Western United States and semi-arid wheat producing regions.
  1. Pre-harvest applications made after the wheat plant has shut down, when wheat kernel development is complete and the crop has matured. This is prior to harvest and used to dry green weeds and allow the crop to even its maturity. This is an uncommon treatment used in less than 3 percent of all wheat acres; however, it can be used to enable a harvest that would otherwise not be possible, if weather conditions prevent the wheat crop from drying sufficiently to be harvested.
  1. “Crop destruct” applications are made to a growing wheat crop when weeds, insects, disease or adverse weather preclude the ability to produce a viable crop. This, of course, results in no harvestable grain.

Wheat growers have options for controlling weeds and managing their crop, and herbicides are one tool in a grower’s proverbial crop production “toolbox”. Glyphosate, when used as directed, has been an effective, proven weed management tool for farmers that continues to pose no unreasonable risk to farmers, farm workers or the environment.

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