03.03.2017 |

Lower pesticide use rarely decreases yields and income, French study

Pesticide use (Photo: CC0)

Farmers could reduce their pesticide use without negative effects on yields and income if they adapted their agricultural practices, new research shows. According to the study published in the journal Nature Plants, “low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability in arable farms.” The team of researchers analysed data from 946 non-organic arable commercial farms with different levels of pesticide use and a wide range of production situations across France. They then evaluated the impact of lower applications of herbicide, fungicide and insecticides on a variety of crops. The scientists found that 77% of the farms studied showed no conflict between using smaller amounts of pesticide and yields. The remaining 23% of farms which did feel the consequences of reduced pesticide use were generally associated with industrial farming, which is highly dependent on pesticide use to sustain yields. The researchers also found that the results varied depending on the crop. While cereal yields were not significantly affected by lower pesticide use, the profitability of potatoes and sugar beets decreased.

“The potential for reducing pesticide use appeared higher in farms with currently high pesticide use than in farms with low pesticide use,” the authors wrote. “The message of our study is that it is possible to cut the use of pesticides. This does not mean that it is necessarily easy,” explained co-author Nicolas Munier-Jolain from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research. “This transition involves increasing the complexity of farms, in particular by diversifying production.” Based on their findings, the authors estimate that around 59% of all French farms could reduce their use of pesticides by 42% without any negative effects on both productivity and profitability. This figure of 42% includes an average reduction of 37%, 47% and 60% of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide use, respectively. The authors said agribusinesses would need to change their practices. Farms should opt for crop rotation and a greater diversity of cultivated varieties instead of monocultures. “Achieving sustainable crop production while feeding an increasing world population is one of the most ambitious challenges of this century,” the study said. “Meeting this challenge will necessarily imply a drastic reduction of adverse environmental effects arising from agricultural activities. The reduction of pesticide use is one of the critical drivers to preserve the environment and human health.” (ab)

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