A survey about the economic impact of glyphosate contamination on the organic sector has been carried out in Saskatchewan.
The survey was done by SaskOrganics in partnership with the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA).
SaskOrganics Executive Director Marla Carlson presented the preliminary results of the survey during an organic research workshop in Swift Current, Oct. 31.
The workshop was co-hosted by the Organic Research Program at the Swift Current Research and Development Centre, SaskOrganics, and the Southwest Saskatchewan Organic Producers Inc.
This was the first time a survey was done in Saskatchewan to obtain information about the economic impact of glyphosate contamination on organic production.
She noted at the start of her presentation that the discussion about the use of glyphosate has become very polarized.
“People can often find the research that they want to find to back up their position, especially when you're in a polarized conversation,” she said. “I think doing this survey, which is looking at the economic impacts of glyphosate on organic farmers, is a way to take it out of that polarization, because regardless of what you think about glyphosate, the fact of the matter is that it is a non-permitted substance in organic production.”
She added that the results from this survey will help to provide useful data to the organic sector in the province.
“The other reason we did it is that almost any research that you do in the organic sector is exciting and new, because there's not enough research being done in the organic sector,” she said. “This was an opportunity to ask farmers and food processors and exporters and manufacturers your experience of accidental glyphosate contamination incidents. This has never been documented before.”
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in Canada, and 176 products containing glyphosate have been approved for use in the country. It is a broad-spectrum, non-selective herbicide that can be used to control various annual and perennial weeds, woody brush, and weedy trees.
She mentioned that glyphosate is actually the most widely used herbicide on the planet. It is sold in over 100 countries, and 825,804 metric tonnes of glyphosate were applied globally in 2014. The worldwide use of glyphosate has increased nearly 15-fold since 1996.
There has been an increase in glyphosate resistant weeds, and worldwide between 24 and 32 resistant weed species have been identified. There have been reports about four to five glyphosate resistant weed species in Canada, including ragweed (Kochia scoparia) in Saskatchewan.
Glyphosate resistant weeds are a concern to organic farmers, because their neighbouring non-organic farmers might use a cocktail of chemicals to try to control such weeds.
The online survey was open for completion between Aug. 9-30, 2019, and there were 148 participants. The majority of survey participants were organic producers. They provided 126 responses, which represented 85 per cent of survey participants. There were 10 transitioning producers (seven per cent of responses), five exporters (three per cent), six manufacturers (four per cent of respondents), and one importer.
Carlson only spoke about the survey results for producers and exporters, because the number of responses in the other categories were too few.
In the case of producers, 26 per cent of respondents had unintended contact with glyphosate on their farm, and they had between one to eight incidents.
The survey indicated that 46 per cent of respondents had to take land out of production. The amount of land taken out of production varied from three to 400 acres, and the three-year transition period for organic production then had to be completed again.
Twenty per cent of producers in the survey reported lost crop sales as a result of glyphosate contamination.
The survey indicated that 52 per cent of respondents had a financial loss due to contamination, and the loss ranged from $3,000 to $200,000.
The survey results for exporters showed that four out of five (80 per cent of respondents) have experienced problems with exporting of organic crops due to glyphosate contamination. All of them agreed that glyphosate contamination has affected Canada’s organic brand reputation.
Carlson felt these survey results will be very useful during discussions with various authorities about how glyphosate contamination is affecting organic farmers.
“I now see it as an opportunity for SaskOrganics to start talking with RM's, the Ministry of Agriculture and also the federal government in partnership with COTA about how this glyphosate contamination is affecting organic farmers and how we can help reduce risk or mitigate risk for organic farmers, because it's no longer do you believe the science about glyphosate being good or bad,” she said. “This is actually affecting the bottom line of farmers in Saskatchewan.”
She noted that case studies can be very powerful to provide a more personal and detailed perspective on the economic impact of glyphosate contamination on an organic producer. She therefore plans to do more in-depth analysis on some farms about this issue.