August 2, 2012
Two European-level meetings addressing current challenges in crop protection took place in Brussels on June 19 and 20, 2012, providing the opportunity to take a hard look at pesticide use and Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The diverse audiences delved deep into history, took broad sweeps at the current situation, and had conflicting views on what the future directions ought to be. ENDURE participated in both meetings. We report here on the diverse and at times opposing views.
The first meeting, Integrated Pest Management - The Way Forward to Sustainable Agricultural Production, was jointly organised by the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association, the Pesticide Action Network Europe and the International Organization for Biological Control (IOBC). The second, the Forum on Sustainable Use of Pesticides - IPM was organised by the European Commission’s Health and Consumers Directorate General (DG Sanco).
With the 50-year anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s ground-breaking book Silent Spring, participants looked back at the rise of pesticide use in agriculture and the parallel emergence of IPM. A veteran Cornell University Professor recounted the beginnings of pesticide-based crop protection, the post-World War II rise in DDT use and the first signs of environmental impact along the food chain.
The emergence of pesticide resistance coincided with the development of IPM and the audience were presented with the example of the insecticide-resistant brown plant-hopper, which created a food security crisis in Indonesia. The phasing out of many broad spectrum insecticides, a rapid 65% reduction in pesticide use and an accompanying 12% increase in rice yields in Indonesia made IPM a household name.
This look back into the history of IPM also provided the opportunity to reflect on the great strides made by the IOBC in promoting biological control, IPM and Integrated Production since its creation 56 years ago, including the creation of 21 crop, pest and method-focused working groups.
Descriptions of a grid-locked current ecological crisis created a stream of pessimism, which at times permeated the assembly.
On the biophysical side, several speakers cited studies on the annual health and environmental costs of pesticides estimating, for example, the pesticide-related public health cost in the USA at $1.1 billion, UK water companies spending £92 million on removing pesticides from their water supplies, or the costs to citizens in the UK and Germany from environmental and pesticide-related health impacts at US$257 million and US$166 million, respectively. Furthermore, there were costs associated with the 520 arthropod pests, 200 weeds and 150 plant pathogens reported to be resistant to pesticides.
The issue of cheap food, whose price does not include such external costs, was raised and led to many questions: Should consumers pay more to reflect the real price of food? Could they be educated on its ‘real’ price? How could external costs be quantified and included in the price? Speakers also pointed to new types of environmental impacts whose complexity made them difficult to understand and quantify. Examples given included non-lethal effects, particularly in the case of neonicotinoid insecticides and their suspected impact on bee colonies, and the hidden consequences of combinations of products (the cocktail effect).
There was also pessimism regarding the prospects for progress towards sustainability. Some argued that real change would only come about with a paradigm shift which permeated all the institutions concerned and was radical enough to break the current lock-in situation. Such a change was not expected to come about quickly. One EU Member of Parliament disheartened the audience by claiming that the process of change from legislation to behaviour usually takes more than 20 years.
Referring to article 12 of the Framework Directive, an anti-pesticide campaigner made the point that the issue of exposure of residents and bystanders to pesticides had been neglected.
The current policy environment was blamed for being unfavourable to the development and availability of alternatives. The registration process for microbial biological agents (see this news item and this Policy Brief from ENDURE on the subject) was described as requiring too many conditions and being excessively slow, in part due to lack of expertise among the services examining dossiers. The new status of bio-stimulants and bio-fertilisers as plant protection products under Regulation 1107/2009/EC was deplored. Declining support from research on non-chemical alternatives and the absence of investment in breeding for resistance or tolerance, were also noted, with one speaker exclaiming: “Where are the breeders?”
It all produced a feeling of a double-bind: on the one hand, continued societal pressure for further progress on the environmental front and, on the other hand, farmers unsatisfied with the options available and working within a locked-in system where the onus is on productivity, excluding the ability to shift to a paradigm based on the concepts of scarcity and sufficiency.
…versus forward-looking go-getters
The gloom-and-doom posture was balanced by a healthy dose of potential solutions, identified resources, pertinent experiences and a ‘can-do’ attitude.
Promising avenues towards reduced reliance on pesticides were highlighted as speakers told of positive experiences. Switzerland was given prominence as an example of nationwide implementation of IPM, with 92% of all Swiss farms satisfying the Proof of Ecological Performance required under Integrated Production to receive subsidies. For arable farmers this means that 7% of the land is under ecological compensation areas, that they comply with compulsory crop rotation requirements and resort to pesticide treatments only if necessary. Other examples of large scale implementation of IPM included the Low Input Viticulture and Enology grower programme, which is successfully adapting and applying Integrated Production guidelines on 4,187 hectares of vineyards in partnership with the IOBC.
On the technical side, there were a number of examples showing that many options are at hand. Of note was a 22-year experiment on corn and soybean which compared systems with no insecticide and no herbicide treatments, plus a legume cover crop to replace synthetic nitrogen, to conventional mid-Western US systems. The results presented showed a cropping system that generated comparable yields and was profitable, albeit requiring 35% more labour.
Regarding new research and development areas, there were reports of new ways of integrating multiple crop protection methods. For example, effective ways of controlling greenhouse vegetable diseases combining beneficial microorganisms such as Trichoderma with high temperatures or with soil solarisation have been devised. To control weeds, previously neglected approaches such as seed predation by beetles, ants, mice, or birds were said to be of significant effect if added to other weed management strategies.
The FP7 PURE project reported on how it is translating systems thinking into an experimental approach for the development of cropping systems less reliant on pesticides. In most of its experimental set-ups, the project is concurrently testing cultural methods involving choice of cultivar and cultivar mixes, seed density and sowing date, with ecological engineering approaches involving biological control agents, mating disruption and habitat manipulation. It is also addressing the ‘soft systems’ aspects with co-innovation pilot experiments. These engage farmers and advisers in the design and evaluation of new systems with the help of DEXiPM, a multi-criteria assessment tool originally for wheat-based systems and which PURE is extending to other cropping system types.
There was a testimony from a French adviser who had used DEXiPM within a multi-year learning process with farmers. The approach was said to make it possible to tackle multiple and inter-related constraints and assist farmers in moving towards new cropping sequences and new farming practices associated with a reduced use of pesticides.
ENDURE also highlighted the soft aspects of IPM, emphasising that rather than a set recipe, IPM involves a learning process in which tactics are continuously adapted by multiple actors and integrated into broader strategies. For such a process, ENDURE’s position was that tools such as DEXiPM and skills such as those of social researchers and economists who can tackle cropping, farm, or even food systems are needed.
When it came to the next steps that should be taken, different angles and priorities emerged.
Some alluded to investing in priority R&D areas as a promising avenue, arguing in favour of the development of resilient self-balancing production systems. Proponents of this vision emphasised research efforts in prevention, looking at the problem from a systems point of view, making the point via a 1985 quote by Stuart Hill: “We are now on the threshold of a third phase in the development of IPM systems that recognizes pests not as enemies, but as indicators of problems in the design and management of systems.” Within the larger knowledge chain, the extension link was seen as a major current bottleneck that requires investment via partnerships and demonstration farms.
On this subject, encouraging news came from DG Research and Innovation and DG Agriculture. From 2014, with the new Horizon 2020 framework, the area of research pertinent to crop protection is set to benefit from up to €4 billion over a six-year period, double the funding allocated under FP7. Also, a new guiding strategy, the European Innovation Partnership, will be introduced to serve as a catalyst for innovation by promoting the creation of consortiums in multi-actor research projects through both Horizon 2020 and the Rural Development Programming.
‘Supermarkets rule!’ was a rallying call arguing that the national food retail sector and global sourcers are the real economic drivers of farming practices and that their current focus on providing low residue or residue-free products to consumers could be taken advantage of. The types of actions described by proponents of this point of view involve partnerships with supermarkets promoting their sustainable development image, use of business-to-business certification schemes that could include Integrated Production guidelines, developing niche markets, use of biological control agents and alternative products among contracted farmers, and involving, or at least communicating with, consumers.
Many emphasised action at the policy level, in particular with respect to the upcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Some called for inclusion of IPM-related measures within the first pillar of CAP, i.e., that direct payments to farmers should depend on additional environmental cross-compliance requirements. For arable crops, this could mean compulsory minimum levels of rotation and more demanding ecological compensation areas. Others argued that such measures could be best encouraged via second pillar incentives (i.e., akin to agri-environmental measures) but should not be tied to direct payments.
Regarding the issue of verifying compliance, there was some discussion regarding the diversity inherent in IPM making it difficult to normalise and control. Since the legislation requires that all professional users of plant protection products implement IPM, it is clear that users in very different contexts will be implementing very different types of IPM. For example, for an audience that generally deals with pesticide use in agriculture, the concept of IPM for pest management along railroad tracks was not immediately obvious.
From the Framework Directive point of view, the next steps concern its application by Member States (MS) in the very near future - National Action Plans (NAP) have to be communicated to the Commission by December 2012.A report on a June 5-6 2012 meeting bringing together 16 MS on the subject of NAP implementation showed that six of them already have a NAP, although three will be revised to ensure they satisfy the Framework Directive. DG Sanco reported that 13 MS had completed transposition into national legislation, nine had partially done so, and five had not done this. DG Sanco’s agenda for the coming year is to monitor transposition and explore means of enforcing it, to develop strategic guidance on monitoring, and to promote harmonised risk indicators and the implementation of IPM.
All presentations given at the June 19 event are available here:
Access to all presentations given at the June 20 event.