The NFU has hit back after a new study carried out in France claimed farmers can dramatically cut pesticide use while maintaining the same levels of production and profitability.
According to the research, total pesticide use could be slashed by 42 per cent without any negative effects on profits or yields on 59 per cent of the 946 farms included in the study.
The scientists say their findings are ‘consistent’ with the recent UN report which branded pesticides a ‘global human rights concern’ and said they were not needed to feed the world.
They also claim farmers want to reduce pesticide use, but are unable to because they are reliant upon agrochemical companies for advice.
NFU vice president Guy Smith said: “Official figures show UK farmers have significantly reduced pesticide use in the last twenty-five years and maintained production, but this seldom seems acknowledged.
“Most farmers I know are always looking to use less inputs while not compromising yield. It makes good business sense.
“But I suspect many farmers will feel a little patronised by this report which lacks solid science and infers farmers are being duped into over-use of crop protection materials.”
Nicolas Munier-Jolain, one of the researchers who conducted the study, told The Guardian farmers who used low levels of chemicals also employed other methods to control pests such as rotating crops, mechanical weeding, using resistant varieties and carefully managing sowing dates.
Mr Smith said it was ‘ridiculous’ to suggest farmers were unaware of non-chemical solutions, but they should not be ‘naively promoted’ without understanding the costs involved due to lower production.
“Going forward, I am sure farmers will always seek solutions which go beyond the chemical can, but at the same time they are not going to rush into alternatives which simply are not thought through”, he added.
Crop Protection Association chief executive Sarah Mukherjee told Farmers Guardian the research showed farmers growing sugar beet, potatoes and oil seed rape would lose out without pesticides.
“Crop protection products are expensive, and farmers in the UK use them only when absolutely necessary as part of an integrated approach to pest management”, she said.