The report said that many farmers are concerned about the health implications of pesticide use, but they are not getting good advice about how to reduce their reliance on chemicals because most of the crop control advice they receive comes from the pesticides industry.
The report was published in the science journal Nature. In it the authors wrote: “We failed to detect any conflict between low pesticide use and both high productivity and high proï¬tability in 77% of the farms. We estimated that total pesticide use could be reduced by 42% without any negative effects on both productivity and proï¬tability in 59% of farms from our national network. This corresponded to an average reduction of 37, 47 and 60% of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide use, respectively.”
The study was conducted in France across 1,000 farms of all types in every geographical region of the country. It assessed the performance of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides on both tillage and grassland by comparing pesticide usage on similar farms, using a treatment frequency index (TFI) methodology. TFI is an indicator that “quantiï¬es the number of recommended doses applied to each unit of cropped area, averaged across the crop sequence”.
The most surprising result of the study was that no farms suffered losses from cutting insecticides, while two-fifths actually found their productivity increased as a result. The study found that 23% of farms “were in situations of conflict between pesticide reduction and productivity and/or proï¬tability. These conflicting situations were associated with industrial [crops] characterized by both high pesticide use and high added value.”
In other words, some high yielding crop varieties depend on high pesticide usage. With regard to this, the report suggested that more research is needed to reduce the dependence of such crops on pesticides, for example “potato cultivars resistant to disease and herbicide band-spraying combined with hoeing for sugar beet”.
The report stated that:“some agricultural practices used to control weeds, pests and diseases (for example, delaying cereal sowing dates, cultivars with low sensitivity to diseases but moderate yield potential, reduced nitrogen fertilization) may decrease the productivity, whereas other practices (for example, introduction of temporary grasslands or maize in rotation) may increase productivity.” Difficulties with weeds management led to productivity losses in some areas but did not affect it in others, indicating variability across different crops, soil types and geographical regions. The authors noted that more work is needed to establish an effective method of reducing pesticide reliance.
Nicolas Munier-Jolain, a researcher at France's National Institute for Agricultural Research is one of its authors. He told journalists: “If you want real reduction in pesticide use, give the farmers the information about how to replace them. This is absolutely not the case at the moment. A large proportion of advice is provided by organisations that are both selling the pesticides and collecting the crops. I am not sure the main concern of these organisations is to reduce the amount of pesticide used.”