Research highlight

Crops thrive despite reduced pesticide

Nature Plants

February 28, 2017

Lower pesticide use rarely causes a loss in productivity or profitability for most arable farms, reports a paper published online this week in Nature Plants. The study suggests reduced pesticide use is already accessible to farmers in most production situations, providing hope for the protection of the environment and human health.

Reducing pesticide use is a key component of achieving sustainable crop production while feeding a growing global population. Previous studies have suggested that the adoption of new production strategies could help reduce pesticide use. However, it has been debated whether substantial reductions are possible without negatively impacting crop productivity and profitability.

Martin Lechenet and colleagues examined the conflicts between pesticide reduction, productivity and profitability using data from 946 non-organic arable farms in France, a large and representative sample of farms covering a wide range of production situations and differential use of pesticide. They found that 77% of the farms displayed no conflict between lower pesticide use and productivity or profitability, and that the 23% of farms that did exhibit conflict were mainly associated with industrial crops, which are highly reliant on pesticide use.

Using their results, the authors estimated that 59% of all French farms could reduce pesticide use by 42% without negatively affecting productivity or profitability. This corresponds to reductions of 37% in the use of herbicides, 47% in fungicides and 60% in insecticides.

The study offers valuable data for farmers and policy makers to inform appropriate pesticide use for environmental safety and social sustainability.

doi: 10.1038/nplants.2017.8

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