ENDURE coordinator Pierre Ricci (pictured right) is director of INRA’s Institut Sophia Agrobiotech, a French National Institute for Agricultural Research base on the Mediterranean coast, sandwiched between Nice and Cannes. With the ENDURE Network of Excellence entering its third year of operation, ENDURE’s web editor, Andrew Lewer, caught up with him. You can read the interview, or watch the video (see bottom of page).
QUESTION: How would you assess the progress of ENDURE network of excellence over its first two years?
PIERRE RICCI: Crop protection specialists are working in different European countries quite separately in their own national context, and the idea of starting ENDURE as a network was to make them know each other and to collaborate more and work together. At the beginning at the start of 2007 they did not know each other very well. Now they have started working together and this community is becoming real and becoming visible. And that’s important because it’s at a time when legislation on pesticides - new legislation, more restrictive legislation - is coming and this will involve changes in how crop protection is done, so it’s important because this community is becoming a reference point and a resource to address these questions.
QUESTION: What have been the most important outcomes of the first two years?
PIERRE RICCI: The first thing we have undertaken in ENDURE is to consider a set of specific problems which are economically important and in which chemical control is very heavily used, such as weed management on arable crops or fungal diseases in wheat or pests and diseases in orchards and so on. And on each of these questions the specialists from different countries have met together, have analysed the situations throughout Europe and have identified the difficulties, the possibilities and also the opportunities. This has led to a whole series of reports on these questions, which really provide a unique description of what it is possible to do today to reduce dependence on pesticide use and also where the difficulties are and the need for further research. All this and a number of other studies have been produced, like the potential for new technologies, for example, in European agriculture, for precision agriculture or how the advisory systems are organised in the different countries, which is often different, and so forth. So there have been a lot of outcomes in this year and importantly they have been presented to an international audience in the first conference that ENDURE organised, which was in October with an attendance of 250 or so scientists.
QUESTION: What do you expect from ENDURE in 2009?
PIERRE RICCI: All the activities are now coming to a mature stage and, more importantly, they are all interacting together so I think we will see most of the production occurring this year. An important aspect I want to underline is the establishment of the ENDURE Information Centre which is a place where advisers all over Europe will have a unique access to the best solutions that have been devised here or there, which they do not have at the moment. It has already been tested with advisers as a prototype in order to adjust this web service to their needs. [They have] expressed what they wanted to find and now it will really be implemented on a much larger scale and demonstrated at least two major events each year. I want to insist on this because it’s clear that in ENDURE research is not going on its own path and is really considering the interactions with the actors at the field level in order to have a real implementation of what is done by research.
QUESTION: The system case studies sound interesting, can you tell us a little more about them?
PIERRE RICCI: When we worked on these specific situations we were talking about before - what we called the case studies - we realised that it was not very easy to change crop protection just by pieces, for example, substituting a chemical treatment by another method without changing a lot of other things. For instance, if you want to reduce the use of herbicides in arable crops then you have to change the rotation, to combine winter crops with spring crops and do the rotation over a longer time and this has a lot of consequences: on the way you cultivate and also on the way you can sell these new crops and on plant breeding for these new crops for instance. So there are quite a lot of changes for the whole system to be taken into consideration to make these changes possible. And this is the systems approach that we are promoting within ENDURE, [which is] the most relevant approach for research and to tackle these changes in crop protection. And of course this requires that we have a lot of different disciplines gathering together in the same situations and these situations are what we call system case studies. For example, as I was saying, how do you take advantage of arable crops to deal with weeds but also diseases and soil pathogens and so forth? So we take advantage of the fact that within ENDURE we have specialists of weeds, but also diseases, pests, specialists of crops, modellers, specialists on the environment, but also social scientists and economists, and this allows us to have this system dimension which we want to promote within ENDURE.
QUESTION: The new pesticides package puts strong emphasis on integrated pest management (IPM) so what role can ENDURE play in this new scenario?
PIERRE RICCI: The pesticides package is really setting a new scene for crop protection and certainly it will not be so easy to move from the pesticides-led crop protection we know at the moment to another system. We need a lot of research to solve many problems, as I said before, and really ENDURE is identifying more relevant lines of research that will help in promoting integrated pest management. And we are also supporting the policy makers both at the European level and also at the national levels when they are setting up their national action plans for adapting the framework directive, to identify practically on the cropping systems what are the best approaches not only in technical terms but also we identify that approaching IPM needs, for example, [the development of] networks of the different actors, farmers, advisers, the industry, policy makers and the whole food chain. They have to work together.