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Fewer pesticides do not equal less profits

Farmers explain how slashing pesticide use can still be profitable.

Food and Natural Resources icon Food and Natural Resources

Discussions are underway in the European Parliament on the proposal to reduce the use and risk of pesticides by 50 % by 2030. A public hearing held on 23 May 2023 as part of the ongoing discussions offered representatives from the EU-funded IPMWORKS project the opportunity to inform members of the European Parliament (MEPs) about integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on preventing pests or the damage they cause through a combination of techniques and natural processes, such as changing crop density, rotating crops and using pest-resistant varieties. The goal is to drastically reduce pesticide use, but in IPM pesticides are not banned. However, they are selected and applied in a way that minimises any risks to human health, beneficial organisms and the environment. Although IPM became mandatory in the EU in 2014, its uptake remains slow and many MEPs feel that the concept is too vague, according to a news item posted on ‘Euractiv’. The problem of how to balance reducing pesticide use with economic viability is also a continuing worry. The public hearing provided the opportunity for the IPMWORKS representatives to address these concerns with descriptions of how IPM is working in more than 22 demo hubs and 250 farms across Europe. “For the past two years, we have been collecting data on farms to demonstrate that it is possible to do without pesticides, while maintaining economic activity,” reports researcher Nicolas Munier-Jolain of IPMWORKS project coordinator INRAE, France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

Two farmers testify

At the hearing, two farmers described their motivations and solutions for effectively reducing pesticide use. Portuguese vegetable grower Bruno Neves explained how after investing in water control and biological pest control methods using wasps and bumblebees, he has reduced pesticide use by 75 %. “We have to concentrate on living ecosystems, try to understand them, to find out how they can help us,” the farmer stated. After just 5 years of IPM, Mathias Jonckheere, a greenhouse strawberry producer from Belgium, cut his use of pesticides by 95 % and fungicides by 50 %. His methods included combining disease-resistant varieties, fine temperature control in greenhouses and natural predators. “Those who use the least pesticides acknowledge that they are just as profitable, and that they have better disease control than their conventional neighbours,” notes INRAE researcher Munier-Jolain. However, there are difficulties, such as the need to farm sustainably while still meeting market needs. Jonckheere described the difficulties experienced from looking after several hectares of strawberries: “If a predator isn’t effective, we try something else. You have to adapt all the time. And obviously, some years are more difficult than others.” IPM methods have not yet gained wide acceptance in Europe, one reason being that chemical products are still too cheap. Another possible reason mentioned in the public hearing is the influence of agricultural advisers linked to agrochemical firms. Solutions proposed by MEPs included making IPM compulsory and imposing minimum requirements for IPM practices and their products. IPMWORKS (An EU-wide farm network demonstrating and promoting cost-effective IPM strategies) is currently launching a new survey to investigate the reduction in pesticide use on the farms in its network. The results are expected in early 2024. For more information, please see: IPMWORKS project website


IPMWORKS, pest, integrated pest management, pesticide, farm, farmer

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