Earlier this month, labor prosecutors in Brazil filed a lawsuit to ban the use of atrazine, a popular herbicide used by no-tillers.

Atrazine was banned in the European Union in 2003 due to the risk of contaminating groundwater and banned in Switzerland, headquarters of Syngenta, 9 years later. Despite its ban, Syngenta, which developed the herbicide, continues to produce and export it to countries like Brazil and the U.S.

It’s estimated that Brazil accounts for 20% of total global pesticide use. According to 2021 data from IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental agency, atrazine was its 5th most used pesticide ingredient. Coming in first place was glyphosate. In 2022, Brazil imported about 77,700 tons of products containing atrazine, accounting for 80% of their supplies.

Brazil feeds about 1.2 billion people around the world, and this feat was made possible in part by conservation agriculture and no-tillage, which relies heavily on herbicide use.

South America uses 205.1 million acres of its farmland for conservation agriculture, which amounts to 68.7% of their total cropland. In comparison, North America uses 162.8 million acres for conservation agriculture for a total of 33.6% of its total cropland.

Brazil itself is second in the world when talking about the number of acres used for conservation agriculture at 106,255,150 acres as of 2018-19. The U.S. comes in first at 108,847,281 acres. This amounts to 18% of Brazil’s total farmland, comparable to the 21% of farmland used for no-till in the U.S.

Because of this massive shift to conservation agriculture, Brazil reported a reduction in soil erosion by 97% and income increases of 57% after 5 years of the start of no-tilling.

The country’s tropical climate favors high erosion and soil degradation, so switching to no-till provided a viable way to mitigate this. Additionally, cover crops aided in weed suppression and keeping the soil biologically active for cash crops.

Because herbicides are such a cornerstone of no-till, critics of the lawsuit are concerned that this will force Brazilian farmers away from conservation agriculture and back to full tillage.

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