Bayer Glyphosate FM Rattles Agrochemical Markets

15.02.2022 - The agrochemicals market has seen intermittent supply shortages for key herbicide ingredients for several months, and a herbicide shortfall had been predicted for the current crop growing season. With glitches following glitches, reports of a worsening market accelerated at the end of last week, when Bayer CropScience declared force majeure for glyphosate and glyphosate-based products.

The news certainly must have pleased the myriad of environmental health advocates who have been calling for a ban on the active ingredient in the Roundup herbicide Bayer inherited with its 2016 acquisition of Monsanto. Herbicide and fertilizer producers are less than happy, however.

In a Feb. 11 letter seen and quoted by trade publications including Crop Life, Udo Schneider, global head of active ingredient manufacturing at Bayer CropScience, informed customers for glyphosate and glyphosate-based products that an unnamed key raw material supplier had experienced a mechanical failure which led to a substantial reduction in production rates. Schneider said Bayer expects repairs to take around three months, during which it may be unable to meet contractual obligations.

Bayer didn’t name the supplier or say which raw materials were affected but asserted that the matter was beyond its control. The company said it was “cooperating seamlessly” with the key supplier and “other partners of trust” to limit the impact to the minimal possible extent.

In autumn 2021, agriculture analysts said supply of herbicide ingredients had struggled to keep up with demand, with industry players blaming a number of factors, including transport and logistics problems, and the Covid-19 pandemic. What’s more, they said Chinese exports had declined due to weather events and energy breakdowns.

These problems compounded by the effects of hurricanes along the US Gulf coast, are said to have led to a surge in on-farm prices for both branded and generic glyphosate products. Bayer’s glyphosate plant in Luling in the US state of Louisiana was idled for several weeks in early autumn last year, due to Hurricane Ida.

Glyphosate up for EU License Renewal in December

The EU license to spray glyphosate on crops is up for renewal in December 2022, and the battle lines have already been drawn. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will launch a public consultation in September, followed by a peer review study to be released sometime this year before it sends its conclusions to the European Commission for a final vote.

In summer 2021, a select EU committee reviewing data for the license renewal process concluded that glyphosate “meets the approval criteria for human health” and re-approval “as an active substance to be used in plant protection products.”

Commenting on that opinion, the EU-based Health and Environment Alliance (Heal) called it “a major step backward,” adding that it highlighted “remaining questions about the objectivity and independence of Europe’s safety assessment of pesticides.”

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist