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Science & Technology

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/agriculture-...


Agriculture. Reducing pesticides does not reduce profits

Translated Monday 20 March 2017, by Meghan O’Shea

Thumbing its nose at the agricultural pesticides lobby, a study conducted by INRA has shown that a decline in the use of chemical pesticides does not diminish farm yields.

Reducing pesticide use without reducing agricultural productivity is possible, researchers at INRA (the French National Institute for Agricultural Research) have determined. In a study published earlier this week in the journal Nature Plants, the authors show that a reduction in the use of agricultural pesticides by a minimum of 30% would have no negative effects. This could not have been timed better, with the Salon de l’Agriculture, intensive agriculture’s veritable showcase, currently being held.

"The objective was to study the correlation between pesticide use and farm productivity and profitability," says Nicolas Munier-Jolain, research engineer at INRA in Dijon, who co-authored the study with Martin Lechenet, who made this the subject of his thesis. Specifically, the study utilized data from 946 farms large-scale conventional farms showing contrasting levels of pesticide use and covering a range of agricultural practices. All the farms are members of the DEPHY network, which was created as part of the government’s Écophyto plan designed to reduce the use of pesticides. The experts compared the relationship between the frequency of treatment and subsequent yields, thereby deducing the economic profitability of each operation. "This is a very important issue in the public debate. On one side there are those who believe that conventional agriculture is using too many pesticides and believe that we can reduce the amount used without negative impacts; on the other, there are those who think that a decrease in the use of chemical pesticides will inevitably lead to lower yields. We wanted to more deeply explore the subject, "says the researcher.

"The use of pesticides could be reduced by 42%."

In the end, the results of this investigation have been significant. "The use of pesticides could be reduced by 42% without any negative impact in 59% of cases," notes the study. This corresponds to "an average reduction of 37% of herbicides, 47% of fungicides and 60% of insecticides." "The conclusion is clear," Nicolas Munier-Jolain enthusiastically states: "we can reduce a farm’s pesticide use without affecting its productivity. And it can be done almost everywhere in France, if local characteristics (region, production type, soil type, climate, etc.) are taken into consideration. In 94% of cases, it is possible to reduce the frequency of pesticide treatments and maintain equivalent or improved productivity. And in 78% of the cases, it would be possible to have a similar or better profit margin." Note that he is not talking about small reductions, far from it. "The data suggests that a reduction by 30% of chemical pesticide usage is possible without any losses occurring. And we should even be able to go further," says the researcher, who described this study as " unique in the world. "

"It’s the agricultural practices that must change"

But beware, these results are only possible "under the right conditions", warns INRA. This transition cannot be achieved without changes to other agricultural practices being made at the same time. "We must be aware that in our transition scenarios, the reduction in pesticide use involved making other necessary changes to practices: crop diversification and rotation, introduction of more resistant varieties, other methods of fertilization, use of mechanical weed control, etc. All these changes must be made together. The implementation of these changes will not be easy and support must be given to the farmers. This will also require changes to mindsets. A diversified rotation reduces pesticide use, but it also means harvesting new crops. And locally there may not necessarily be the business opportunities or markets... "says Nicolas Munier-Jolain, for these "alternative commodities. "

Key stakeholders remain to be convinced, the latest official figures from the Ministry of the Environment show an increase in the use of pesticides, despite a slight drop in 2015!

A divided European Union
Once again, representatives of the European Commission Member States have failed to agree on a common definition of endocrine disruptors, harmful chemicals found in many products used in daily life. Several Member States, including France, have challenged the definition as too lax for proper EU oversight, particularly in the inclusion of these substances in pesticides and biocides. The Commission has stated that it "remains committed to meeting its obligations to identify endocrine disruptors," but for now, there is no date scheduled for further discussions.

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