Judging by the variety of agricultural advisory services offered across Europe - varying from the private to the public, from the large to the small - it could be assumed that there is no right or wrong way to ensure farmers receive the best advice on Integrated Pest Management. However, several ENDURE partners have specific expertise in this area and are pooling their experiences to outline proven techniques useful for advisers and extension services across the European Union.
The first leaflet in the Training in Integrated Pest Management series is the recently published ‘Using experience groups to share knowledge and reduce pesticide use’ (see below to download the leaflet), written by Rolf Thostrup Poulsen and Poul Henning Petersen from the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service (DAAS).
The leaflet draws on Denmark’s longstanding use of experience groups, which were first developed in the early 1980s and later played an important part in helping Danish farmers meet government targets to reduce pesticide use while remaining profitable.
Currently there are 428 registered experience groups in Denmark, with a total of more than 3,000 members, and they cover the majority of agricultural sectors. DAAS says membership of experience groups offers some key advantages:
The eight-page leaflet outlines the best ways to proceed, right from creating an experience group through to generating commitment, setting goals, timetabling and maintaining motivation.
DAAS: Owned by farmers, working for farmers
The authors are part of the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service (DAAS), which is both owned and run by Danish farmers. It’s an advisory system unlike any other, working through 32 local advisory centres and a large national centre and employing 3,500 staff. To find out more, we spoke to Rolf Thostrup Poulsen (pictured right).
QUESTION: The advisory system in Denmark is unique, can you describe it?
ROLF THOSTRUP POULSEN: The reason the advisory situation in Denmark is quite unique is that 90 % of the farmers together own the Danish Agricultural Advisory Service (DAAS). Being a non-profit organisation 100% owned by Danish farmers ensures that DAAS is able to provide farmers with unbiased information in all aspects concerning their production. With some 3,500 employees, DAAS has the ability to generate, gather, transform and disseminate knowledge of relevance to all Danish farmers. The top priority of DAAS is to help the farmer get the best of his production. For some farmers, the best is the highest turnover, whereas others place landscape values and environmental diversity higher. DAAS has to be able to meet all these aspects of farmers’ wishes, which is why DAAS is divided into a two-layered structure with 32 local advisory centres and one national centre. While the local centres advise and help the farmers, the national centre is responsible for generating new knowledge for the local advisors. Besides this, the national centre is also responsible for maintaining contact with the agricultural politicians, ensuring that the voice of the farmers is heard.
DAAS is a partner in ENDURE, because more and more knowledge originates from international sources. In ‘the old days’ - and not that long ago - the advisory system carried out many field experiments, which formed the major basis for their advice to farmers. Today, field experiments still form a strong basis for the advice provided, but we have responded to the strong demand from farmers to explore and listen to the possibilities in international agriculture. Whenever new ideas emerge internationally, it is the responsibility of DAAS to convert and evaluate them in a Danish context and consequently determine whether or not they will be of value to the farmers.
QUESTION: How does this differ from the situation in other ENDURE partner countries?
ROLF THOSTRUP POULSEN: In other European countries, the structure of the advisory systems is much more fragmented than is the case in Denmark. The fact that 90 % of the farmers in one country own one company to ensure they get the best possible advice is unique. Often in other countries the advisory industry is either provided by private companies (pesticide companies in particular) or owned by governmental bodies. In Germany, the federal states are responsible for advising farmers, whereas in France the chemical companies are strong providers of ‘free’ advice. When members of DAAS talk to farmers in other European countries and tell them, that besides a member’s fee, Danish farmers pay €120 to €130 per hour for advice, the other farmers usually shake their heads in disbelief. But who pays the highest price? The farmer receiving free advice on crop protection from companies selling pesticides or the farmer who pays for advice from his own company of advisers? From the point of DAAS, there is of course not much doubt, but it is also important to emphasise that there are major cultural, environmental and political differences in Europe, which is challenging if you want to establish impartial advice at the European Union level. In Denmark, the tradition of having large corporations within agriculture goes back more than 100 years. This means that today, for example, both the abattoirs (Danish Crown) and the dairies (ARLA) are owned to a large extent by farmers in a similar fashion to DAAS.
QUESTION: How can the Danish experience benefit the rest of Europe?
ROLF THOSTRUP POULSEN: In some European countries, the advisory industry is currently being reorganised. Here the experiences and values of DAAS may help in building a focused and structured platform for advice and advisers, consequently helping European farmers increase their productivity and efficiency. From a crop protection point of view, DAAS has been highly involved in the previous pesticide action plans, helping farmers maintain their production under increasingly strict regulations in terms of pesticide approval, cross-compliance regulations and much more. As many other European countries will have to take similar steps in the coming years, with the implementation of the EU Framework Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides, there is potential for learning from the Danish experiences. One of the steps to reduce pesticide use, implemented in Denmark 25 years ago, is the use of experience groups, where farmers sit together with their adviser several times during the season and discuss crop protection measures. The leaflet we have published on this subject is intended to be useful for advisers who want to start an experience group or the farmer who would like to discuss his crop protection strategy during the growing season with other producers in similar situations.
To download the first Training in Integrated Pest Management leaflet, click below:
If you found this article interesting, you may want to consult the following: