Can the use of pesticides be reduced?

Can the use of pesticides be reduced?

That the use of pesticides * in agriculture can be reduced or even canceled is something that has been known for many years.
Between the 60s and today, many researchers, including myself with work on the control of certain aleirodides, we have repeatedly and amply demonstrated how many (if not all) pest infestations and attacks derive from agronomic errors, excessive specializations, etc. ..
Now a recent French research (if ever there was still need) demonstrates moreover that by applying fewer drugs the crops can even increase. Provided that ancient sustainable practices are also followed.
Often the following question arises: do farms using few pesticides have more to gain or lose? In most cases crop productivity and profitability are not affected. Indeed, often (as many open field research reports) these two indicators improve.


Now comes the authoritative word of one supports a study by some researchers of INRA (Institut national de la recherche agronomique) French, as is well known, is one of the most important research centers on agriculture in the world.
This research, funded largely by the French government, was published in Nature Plants. The work was carried out on 946 farms scattered throughout France, diversified by climate and production. The conclusions, which are unequivocal, are intended to feed the debate, already very heated, between those pushing for a more sustainable agriculture and who repeats that, to feed a world in continuous population growth, it is impossible to give up plant protection products.
But to avoid our considerations (more or less part) to understand the scenario let the data speak.
In summary, for each farm, the research had the goal of determining the effect that would have a low use of pesticides on productivity (understood as energy produced per hectare from a crop) and profitability. Here’s what it turned out:
• in 38.8% of cases, decreasing pesticides increases productivity;
• in half of the cases (55%), those who use less pesticides get the same crops when they used more;
• in only 6.2% of the cases, researchers found fewer harvests.
But the term “pesticides” is vague, includes an endless catalog of plant protection products (term as improperly said) with often very different functions and compositions. And that is why the study has distinguished the three main categories: fungicides, herbicides and insecticides. By making this discrimination we have seen that the results are very distinct:
insecticides are the easiest to eliminate: in most cases (86.2%) those who decrease them get more abundant crops;
only 39.2% of the farms analyzed managed to decrease the fungicides by increasing productivity (but in over half of the cases it remained unchanged);
only 6.4% of the sample managed to use less herbicides producing more. Furthermore, in three cases out of ten (28.8%) the crops were scarcer. If you want to see the glass half full, in 65% of cases the productivity has remained the same.
But the fact that (if this was still necessary) is more significant is that most companies that drastically reduce plant protection products, according to this research, do not undergo any change in their profitability: this happens in two cases out of three (66.6 %); while in 22.3% of the cases the revenues decrease and only 11.1% increase.
For the type of agriculture that today is largely conducted on these farms, the results of the study do not say that all pesticides are inefficient, or badly used, but according to the research, it is clear that there are many useful practices to control the pests, well known to the farmers, which not only work, but do not involve any damage either to the productivity or to the profitability of the farms. This is the real news emerging from this very interesting research, held, as usual, hidden from the great public opinion.
Alternative practices include (in a very general way): crop rotation, use of varieties that are less susceptible to insects, delayed sowing of winter cereals, elimination of weeds by mechanical means rather than herbicides. Above all good rotations with legumes, decreasing the contributions of synthetic nitrogen (one of the major agents to make plants more vulnerable to parasitic attacks) are the techniques to be reconsidered substantially.
Ultimately, this French research is a good starting point, above all because it has been conducted with quality procedures and with very accurate methods. If you can make a note to the research is that among the parameters taken into account did not give weight to the cultural level and the competence of the individual farmer.
But this is perhaps the starting point for a sustainable agriculture of the future: training and information are very important aspects in the challenge to reduce the use of plant protection products in agriculture.
This research demonstrates a truth that is well known to many researchers: there is no doubt that pesticides can be completely eliminated: many organic companies already do so. However, it is not possible to do it totally with certain types of agriculture (intensive, protected, specialized, etc.).
To no avail then the diatribe between those who argue that if they converted farms, which use chemistry, with companies that produce natural systems (including those certified in organic “that would eat the Planet.
This too is an affirmation without any technical or mathematical foundation.
(see the contribution: how many inhabitants can live on earth). The FAO estimates that in the year 2050 9 billion people will live in the world but in this direction it will go towards a further loss of arable land and, above all, towards the technical unavailability of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. On the other hand, sustainable agriculture (with the organic yields of organic farms) distributed throughout the world’s cultivable area is, in fact, the only solution.
It is evident that today, the use of phytosanitary products is inevitable in intensive crops with high added value to maintain certain levels of profitability and business productivity.
But this agriculture as for example that of the Po Valley where, to date, crop rotation is not convenient because the maize guarantees high productivity and profitability, also thanks to the fact that there is plenty of water at low cost, it is not reproducible not even more in the short term (due to the exponential pollution of groundwater and soil).
Another interesting aspect that emerged from this French research is that, of course, not all crops react the same way to cutting crop protection products. In the study published in Nature Plants, maize and sugar beet crops are not diminished. On the contrary, they guarantee more income for farmers, who can save on pesticide costs. The situation of wheat is different; this is in fact one of the productions that has less to gain from this scenario.
Indeed, it has been shown that wheat fields cultivated with few pesticides provide less crops in 73% of cases; at the same time it is also true that, very often, profitability would remain the same (in 65% of cases) or increase (24%), precisely because it would save on the purchase and distribution cost of plant protection products.
Ultimately, the research must recover its Authority demolished and dismembered by the large and immense interests of multinationals and politicians complacent or ignorant. On this, however, the public must defend itself to defend the main protagonists of a change that is now imperative: the farmers, who resist, despite all the disinterest (or excessive interest) of many public or private institutions dangerously conniving to lies food.

Guido Bissanti

* improperly called plant protection products, as their use is not curative but acts with the mechanism of poisons – poison means in fact a substance that, taken by a living organism, has temporary or permanent harmful effects, until it is lethal, through a mechanism chemist. By drug we mean instead a product, made with molecules, inextricably conforming to EUGMP, classified as API (active pharmaceutical ingredient), exogenous, organic or inorganic, natural or synthetic, capable of inducing functional modifications in a living organism, positively or negatively, through a physical, chemical or physical-chemical action.

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