Lower pesticide use “rarely” decreases productivity, French study shows

A team of researchers in France have shown that is it possible to reduce pesticide use on most French arable farms without impacting on either yield or profitability. 

Insect control by Pieter van Marion (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“We demonstrated that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability in arable farms”. That’s according to a team of researchers who have just published their research, based on 946 non-organic arable farms in France.

The researchers, led by David Makowski and Nicolas Munier-Jolain, found “no conflict” between low pesticide use and both high productivity and high profitability in 77% of the studied farms. For the other 23%, an especially industrial and highly pesticide-dependent model of farming was in operation. They also estimated that pesticide use could be reduced by 42% in total without negative effects on both productivity and profitability in 59% of farms.

Farms with the highest pesticide use had the most potential for reducing pesticide use, without impacting on productivity or profitability.

The farms were part of the Dephy network, which is part of the French government’s pesticide reduction initiative called Ecophyto. The farms themselves represent a wide range of techniques with a wide range of uses of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. Being part of this network means the farms submit data for analysis on chemical use, crop yields and other information.

Not all similar studies have been so optimistic about pesticide reduction: a smaller 2014 study of French arable farms had shown France’s winter wheat harvest could drop by more than 1/10 if farmers reduced pesticide use by 50%.

France has in recent years made moves to reduce pesticide use, including via Ecophyto initiatives. The current campaign, Ecophyto 2 which runs until 2018, aims to half pesticide use nationally.  As we reported last September, “pesticide sellers have started a five-year trial period during which they agree to promote alternatives to chemicals.”

Alternatives  – such as biological or mechanical methods – are weighted in a matrix and contribute to a distributor’s overall score towards a certified target.  For every missed Certificat d’Economie de Produits Phytopharmaceutiques (CEPP) at the end of the five years, distributors will face a fine, currently set at a symbolically low five euros.

However French agri coops are tied up in the sales of pesticides, so are set to  loose income if pesticide sales reduce; it is thus no surprise that the French farmers’ unions oppose it, describing the initiative as  “ideological posturing”.

Whatever about the coops selling pesticides, according to the team of researchers, “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.”

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About Oliver Moore (127 Articles)
Graduated with his PhD in November 2007 having studied the sociology of buying and selling of organic fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets in Ireland. Is published in academic journals and books, including the International Journal of Consumer Studies and the book Belongings (from the sociological chronicles series). Communications Manager and EU Correspondent with ARC2020.eu, a platform of 150+ NGOs campaigning for better food, farming, environment and rural policies in Europe.

A weekly columnist and contributor with Irish Examiner, columnist with Food and Wine magazine, contributor to lots of other publications, including the Irish Times. Regular contributor to on RTE Radio 1. On line, along with too many he's a contributor to websites like Glenisk's. He's also occasionally heard on radio talking about articles that have just appeared, or about farming/food/organics in UCC, where he give classes on organics, Fair Trade, CSAs and other agri-food related areas.
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