As French growers face a huge crackdown in pesticide usage, Jane Carley heard from industry bodies about how they plan to tackle new legislation.
French farming organisations are gearing themselves up to a future without pesticides, under the national action plan, Ecophyto 2+, which challenges the industry to cut pesticide use by 50 per cent by 2025.
Agriculture minister Didier Guillaume, who has also previously announced that most of the approved uses of glyphosate will be removed in France by 2020, told a gathering of farming journalists in Paris: “There’s no right way to ban pesticides. The transition can’t come overnight, but the industry must be prepared for the end of plant protection products.”
Eric Therouin, chairman of cereal producers’ association AGPB said that the message from the industry is that there must be no ban without solutions.
“We want to take on an agro-ecological transition but also to stop the spiral of constraint on production inputs – if crop protection products are to be withdrawn at European level there must be alternatives. We have already lost some valuable products as a result of French legislation.”
He added that the farming industry will commit to reduce pesticides only if viable and cost-effective solutions are found, and that this message has been clearly communicated to President Macron, the Ministry of Agriculture and national research organisations.
Crop protection trade body UIPP represents manufacturers of products for all farms including organic and comprises 19 members from multinational size downwards, covering 95 per cent of the French market. Some members produce organic solutions and bio-control products as well as agrochemicals.
“Some 30-40 products will be lost without intervention,” said director, Eugenia Pommaret.
“Yet we are faced with 100,000 different bio-aggressors (pests, weeds and diseases); seven new insects arrive in France each year, and the change in weather conditions means that new threats to plant health progress more quickly.”
Government initiatives to cut pesticide use do not always take account of the measures already put in place by farmers and thus present unrealistic targets, she added.
“Our members plan to improve their organic solutions – just because it is organic it does not automatically make it a good treatment - and while bio-control only represents 5 per cent of the market now, it is expected to be 15 per cent by 2025. Chemical manufacturers are also working to make products less toxic, improve formulation and develop products for use in different conditions.”
Jean-Michel Delannoy, vice president of fruit and vegetable producers’ organisation, Interfel, said that at 63 years old, his farming career started before the widespread use of pesticides and he is now facing the future without them.
He added that 50 per cent of all French fruit and vegetables have no residues and 98 per cent are below maximum residue levels, showing that food is still safe even with pesticide use.
Even in France’s most traditional crop there is a commitment to reducing pesticide use.
Champagne producer Taittinger eliminated herbicide 10 years ago, first trialling inter-row and in-row cultivation before settling on planting grass between the rows to outcompete weeds.
Fungicide dose reductions have proved successful in all but the most climatically challenging years while pheromone traps help to prevent insects breeding. Roses planted at the end of rows act as ‘sensors’, warning of insect threat.
However, a glyphosate ban is feared - when severely diseased vines are taken out, affecting some 5-7hectares/year, glyphosate is used to kill the root.
Taittinger’s vineyard manager, Vincent Collard, said: “Plans to totally ban glyphosate and other important products are not realistic and show a lack of connection between legislators and the countryside.”