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The development of sustainable technologies for weed control is well on track - according Zasso Group
Posted by: Prof. Dr. M. Raupp (IP Logged)
Date: November 30, 2017 04:24PM

It is possible to look out with optimism to the great challenges in

The development of sustainable technologies for weed control is well on
track - to support an agricultural system that uses less chemical

?°Swords to ploughshares?? was a slogan that still envisioned the plough as
a peaceful alternative and reliable a basis for food production. But this
image has changed considerably. Although the first proponents of no-till
soil management recognised more than 100 years ago that churning up the
soil destroys essential ecosystems in the long run, it was only the
widespread use of Glyphosate that made this method a worldwide success,
because the chemical herbicide allows control of obstinate weeds without
the high energy input of ploughing.

The carry-over of fungal diseases through re-germination of volunteer grain
(?°green bridge??) can be inhibited or the spread of nematodes after a rape
seed harvest minimised by just one application of Glyphosate, without
disturbing the soil or deeper tillage. The risk of erosion through water
and wind decreased, which was decisive for many growing regions around the
globe. As a result, the numbers of earthworms and other soil organisms
increased significantly. Suddenly the soil was demonstrably able to retain
so much additional carbon (while at the same time storing more water) that
no-till farmers could become sellers of CO?ü certificates. Even with a
diminishing rural population still working in the fields, ever larger areas
could be cultivated and gain good yields. Farmers everywhere soon converted
to soil conservation approaches and created entirely new agroecosystems,
with distinct social and economic implications. Some areas of the purely
conventional agriculture apply Glyphosate even too a much greater extent
than no-till farmers, also decreasing their energy consumption and workload.

However, the side-effects of the Glyphosate triumph are becoming
increasingly obvious. Aside from the dangers for the health and environment
the creation of resistant plants, microorganisms in the soil, insects as
well as birds are also directly or indirectly affected by the broad, often
extensive and extremely efficient use of the chemical. Not all effects can
be directly and causally retraced, but knowledge about interrelations is
steadily increasing. The implementation of the precautionary principle
prevalent in Europe also calls for restrictions, and these currently get
off the ground.

An overview of all arguments against a reduction or abolition of Glyphosate
show several important aspects:

1. Glyphosate has shaped agriculture, the environment and social
structures to a considerable extent.
2. The dependency on its application is therefore large. The same also
applies to the risk of damage in case no adequate substitute becomes
available in time, before a foreseeable phasing out of further application
areas or in the case of inevitable restrictions on short notice.

Farmers therefore need to be offered a practical, technical alternative
when it comes to weed control, and most of all one where no soil movement
is involved! Otherwise, a change will generate increased and substantial
CO?ü - as well as nutrient releases - and this effect already happens
during the first ploughing. In addition, the ecosystems that have been
established over so many years will again be destroyed. It is not
surprising that pasture tilling is strictly regulated by the EU. In
addition, the status quo regarding manpower, erosion, soil compaction and
bonus systems for careful tillage cannot easily be changed. Turning
exclusively to organic farming (which also partly uses tilling to large
extent) with totally different agroecosystems and cultivation methods is
also no option. This approach cannot be transferred to the necessary scale
and is not at all a short-term alternative for all regions. Moreover, many
organic farmers know the limitations of their weed control methods only too
well and they are increasingly looking for new options. But no other
chemical herbicides will be forthcoming. The chemical industry has been
searching for more than 25 years now. An extended use of already existing
chemical herbicides is also no solution. It is with good reason that their
application is becoming more and more restricted, with increasing knowledge
about their side effects and the possibility of accumulation in the human
body and the environment. The only reason that Glyphosate is the most
common herbicide today is that there are no more recent, cheaper and more
efficient replacements. It has become more of a victim to its own
application success, as a herbicide without alternatives and a publicised
low toxicity, than to the increasingly obvious health and environmental
impacts. Yet while these rather complex and indirect side-effects have
remained obscure for a long time, this makes them no less relevant.

Consequently, the challenge is a great one when the focus is now on
restricting Glyphosate as well as other problematic herbicides. No matter
what chemical molecules have been taken off the market in past decades: in
each case, a very successful and economically relevant product needed to be
replaced by an even better, technologically more advanced one. For example,
the case of replacing PCBs and CFCs initially demanded various extensive
innovations before the environment could actually start to benefit. Every
time an increase in intelligent technology and a decrease of residue where
the main goals stated. These complex problems can only be approached in a
concrete way and to a degree acceptable to individual farmers as well as
society, by reinforcing the social and economic structures in agriculture,
lowering the overall energy consumption, using soil for carbon storage,
reducing the impact on the environment and strengthening sustainability.
Many of the required building blocks have already been developed, and
innovation would at least gain a decisive boost if a change were projected.
Wider awareness of alternatives, which now have to be extensively studied,
tested and put into practice, forms a core element of a forward-looking,
sustainable agriculture.

Europe already has many marketable methods for weed control in cities and
fields, using such innovative techniques as high voltage, pressurised
water, hot water, highly biodegradable nature-like substances, sensor-
controlled hoes and brush systems. Instead of monopolies and monocultures,
diversity is key for the companies. What all of these mostly medium-sized
enterprises have in common is a large potential to prove, in a flexible way
and on short notice, how and where chemical herbicides can be replaced by
innovative technologies - while also addressing currently unsolved issues
(resistances, lack of confidence in the public opinion, image loss). It is
definitely wrong to claim that Glyphosate is without alternatives and its
abolition will lead to considerable losses and damages, for there are
already alternative concepts in place - for the sustainable control of
spontaneous vegetation that
crosses the threshold to becoming damaging and therefore a weed. Apart from
the already applied mechanical methods on the soil surface, Zasso proposes
the electrophysical treatment with high voltage currents. This technique
offers an opportunity of controlling and treating the vegetation
systemically, right down into the roots, with an effect similar to that of
Glyphosate, but without moving the soil. The high voltage is conducted
through the plants and specifically damages their water supply in the
shoots and roots. Only plants touched directly by the applicators are going
to dry out afterwards, and all without any chemical residues. The soil is
not moved, erosion avoided and the habitat of the soil organisms remains
totally intact. This efficient method can be used as well to treat weeds on
paving, gravel, water-bound coverings and streets. Depending on the area of
application, other innovative methods can also prove to be effective. And
ultimately a combination of methods is going to keep spontaneous vegetation
in check wherever it definitely causes damage and becomes a weed. This
demands a more precise, selective weed control approach - to protect the
environment in all those locations where vegetation is more valuable for
animals and plants when it remains in place than when it is removed.

In summary, it is possible to look out with optimism to the great
challenges in agriculture. And while there may be no chemical replacements
for Glyphosate, there will be numerous physical alternatives for weed
control. Many of these innovative techniques are currently developed or
already deployed in Europe. Now the task is for all parties concerned to
work together in identifying the best alternatives for individual
agricultures and regions and to implement them straight away. Only then can
the health and economic risks for farmers, the environment and our society
overall be kept within limits - for a future-oriented, strong agricultural


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