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Improving Food Production One Spray at a Time

Climate change causing huge issues with food production; rampant food inflation; countries struggling to secure sufficient supplies of wheat and other staple crops; a war in Ukraine that is inhibiting the flow of grain from both countries. Clearly the world must react and up its game when it comes to food security.

So a recent article in Politico, entitled “Brussels braces for ‘acrimonious’ fight over reducing pesticides”, and regarding how the European Union was struggling to orchestrate a 50% drop in pesticide use, not surprisingly caught our eye. The article ignores the dichotomy of needing to up food security and then enacting rules that undermine food production in one of the most productive agricultural areas on the planet. It explains how the Commission has set what many has seen as arbitrary targets for each Member State which are then expected to “make it happen” under the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy.

But how does one “make it happen”? None of the Member States are police states – ie, they do not currently say which farmer can grow what crop where, let alone how and (broadly speaking) with what input to help them so how will it work? Will a farmer only be allowed to buy/spray half the amount of a pesticide than he did last year? What happens if it is not enough and their crop fails; will those farmers get recompense for their loss? Will companies only be allowed to sell 50% of last years product? How would that be policed, and who would check that something more than lip-service would be given to the process?

Perhaps a pesticide tax would force farmers to reduce their inputs? Denmark, for example, has a system of taxation which incentivises farmers to use the plant protection products with the least load on the environment and/or health, by taxing those more benign products the least. The cost of inputs has gone up making Danish produce less competitive on the open market but it has not halved pesticide use, and the new rules want to see a 50% reduction across the board. And does that stimulate innovation in ensuring farmers have the tools to produce high quality affordable food or does it drive innovation away, drive down productivity and leaving the food supply chain no choice than to look to outside of the EU for more and more of its raw ingredients?

Meanwhile 400 farmers hold a protest in a Stuttgart. According to them, a general ban on pesticides in “protected areas” would mean the end for many farms growing fruit, wine and vegetables, but also for arable farming. “This applies not only to conventional farms, but also to organic farms, because they also have to use pesticides,” said Christian Coenen, one of the organisers in the run-up to the protest.

The underlining ethos of the Farm to Fork Strategy to reduce the environmental impact of pesticides is a good one – who could argue that making our soils and water courses healthier is not what we should be doing? But given the EU already has the strongest legislation on pesticides anywhere in the world, does an arbitrary reduction target make sense irrespective of how safe or unsafe a pesticide might be? Does this make sense given that we are in a food security crisis that shows no signs of going away, with an underlying cost-of-living crisis that results in many people rejecting more expensive food products.

Surely a better way forward has been proposed by the Coalition on Sustainable Productivity Growth for Food Security and Resource Conservation, which attempts to marry up better environmental standards with productive farming. The SPG Coalition does not set arbitrary pesticide reduction targets but does demand a reduction in the environmental impact of pesticide use, championing integrated pest management, something we at AlphaBio Control have been promoting ever since our formation.

Our vision is to find alternatives to current pesticides use by researching and developing products from natural sources and inserting them in current pest management programmes. The idea is by replacing one conventional product with a biopesticide, we can help farmers achieve the underlying environmental goals of Europe’s Farm to Fork Strategy in a way that is consistent with the SPG Coalition’s ethos of keeping productivity high. Improving food production one spray at a time.