Reducing pesticide use while preserving crop productivity and profitability on arable farms

Crops in France found to thrive despite reduced use of pesticides

A new study shows that it is possible for farmers to reduce their use of pesticides right now, without any real risk of financial loss.

2017 Study Abstract

Achieving sustainable crop production while feeding an increasing world population is one of the most ambitious challenges of this century.

Meeting this challenge will necessarily imply a drastic reduction of adverse environmental effects arising from agricultural activities.

The reduction of pesticide use is one of the critical drivers to preserve the environment and human health. Pesticide use could be reduced through the adoption of new production strategies; however, whether substantial reductions of pesticide use are possible without impacting crop productivity and profitability is debatable.

Here, we demonstrated that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability in arable farms. We analysed the potential conflicts between pesticide use and productivity or profitability with data from 946 non-organic arable commercial farms showing contrasting levels of pesticide use and covering a wide range of production situations in France. 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.

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