French researchers have demonstrated that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability in arable farms, and that major reductions in pesticide use across the country could be achieved through a range of changes in practices, provided the appropriate support is provided to farmers.
INRA researchers worked with the Agrosolutions company to analyse the relationship between the level of pesticide use and the performance of cropping systems in terms of their productivity and profitability across 946 conventional arable farms in the DEPHY-Ferme network (a key component of the French government’s EcoPhyto plan to reduce and improve the use of plant protection products).
The INRA website reports on the publication of their research in Nature Plants in March. INRA says that the relationship between TFI (Treatment Frequency Index) and productivity and profitability depends on the production situation, in other words, soil type, climate, the presence of livestock facilitating diversification with rustic forage crops, access to irrigation, or access to markets for industrial crops.
Taking into account these contextual elements, says INRA, it would be possible to decrease TFI while maintaining equivalent or better productivity in most situations and maintaining equivalent or better profitability in around three-quarters of farms.
In addition, says the website, researchers have described a generalised EcoPhyto transition scenario, whereby every DEPHY farmer adopts the practices of a DEPHY farmer working in the same type of context but with a lower TFI and at least equivalent profitability. Under this scenario, the average cut in TFI for farms changing cropping systems would be 42%, with no change in profitability. Taking into account farms which could not change systems without a hit on profitability, this would produce a decrease of 30% nationally.
Writing in Nature Plants , lead author Martin Lechenet (no stranger to this website as he was involved in setting up a European network of long-term experiments on Integrated Pest Management (IPM)), reports: “We failed to detect any conflict between low pesticide use and both high productivity and high profitability in 77% of the farms. We estimated that total pesticide use could be reduced by 42% without any negative effects on both productivity and profitability 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 potential for reducing pesticide use appeared higher in farms with currently high pesticide use than in farms with low pesticide use. Our results demonstrate that pesticide reduction is already accessible to farmers in most production situations. This would imply profound changes in market organization and trade balance.”
See: Reducing pesticide use while preserving crop productivity and profitability on arable farms. Martin Lechenet, Fabrice Dessaint, Guillaume Py, David Makowski and Nicolas Munier-Jolain. Nature Plants 3 , Article number: 17008 (2017). Doi: 10.1038/nplants.2017.8
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