How are fertiliser and chemical suppliers preparing for potential market changes?

Recommendation on active ingredient due later in 2017

Resolva: brand aiming to reduce reliance on chemicals - image: Westland
Resolva: brand aiming to reduce reliance on chemicals - image: Westland

Fertiliser and chemical companies are preparing for life should active ingredients such as glyphosate lose their approval at a future date, but representatives for glyphosate-based weedkiller brand Roundup say there has been no reaction by everyday consumers to pressure for a ban.

Roundup maker Monsanto's business director Gary Philpotts says he hopes the science prevails after the European Chemical Hazards Agency (ECHA) makes recommendations to the European Commission later this year. Green groups have promoted research linking glyphosate to cancer but regulatory bodies have to date said the science shows the product is safe.

However, Philpotts is resigned to surprises in politics and legislation, such as Brexit, Donald Trump's election and possible changes in political direction in western Europe following upcoming elections. Fellow weedkiller suppliers such as Neudorff, Westland, SBM and Sipcam say they have naturals available poised to take any market opportunities that present themselves following possible changes to legislation.

The ECHA's committee for risk assessment is developing its opinion on the classification of the substance and will adopt the final opinion on harmonised classification for glyphosate by the end of November. The ECHA will submit the opinion to the commission, which takes the final decision on the classification of glyphosate. The commission takes the classification into account when deciding on renewal of glyphosate approval under the Plant Protection Products Regulation.

Philpotts says the fertilisers and chemicals market was down last year by 2-3% but Roundup's share grew. "If there was some movement away from pesticides, particularly in weed control with Roundup, we'd have felt that the hardest because we're the poster child," he adds. "But in the UK it doesn't seem to be that. There is no scientific data that should lead to a ban."

He says pressure groups are likely to pick a time in peak season to launch an anti-glyphosate campaign but retailers should not be intimidated. "All I hope is the science and sensible thinking will weigh out," he adds.

Vitax says having a broad range of products, many made in Britain, plus "stability" in a market where Bayer has recently been bought by SBM, and Scotts is for sale, has given the company an advantage. Neudorff says chemical use in gardening is "more and more under pressure" Europe-wide, with France taking a tough stance and banning non-professional gardeners from buying pesticides over the counter. Germany also has a more restrictive position than the UK.

SBM's Christina Bouzala says pressure on glyphosate is a "concern because we know it's really good if you use it as you should. There's nothing else to replace it. With Brexit I have no idea how regulations will work. In France everything is banned and in Germany it is midway, more on the naturals than chemical side. The industry is still backing glyphosate but it's an unknown."

Having a French owner in SBM means there is a choice of naturals and non-naturals now available from the company, she adds. Sipcam-owned Ecofective's Matt Jones says amid the debate around glyphosate, his range aims to be "kinder to the environment compared to conventional products, preferably using naturally derived ingredients".

Ecofective, Vitax, Westland and Neudorff all say they are expanding. Westland points out that it also has a range of naturals and non-naturals. Resolva Natural Power Bug & Mildew Spray is the first of a new range of gardening controls from the Resolva brand "designed to reduce our reliance on chemicals".

Westland's market research has found that 36% of gardeners do not use chemicals and a further 12% do use them "but have environmental and safety concerns". It adds that "many are cautious of using non-chemical products as they fear they will not be fast-acting or effective", but says Resolva Natural Power solves that problem.

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