Life on a farm: Long-term sustainability through integrated pest management

A recent webinar co-hosted by IEEP and the Mission of Canada to the EU discussed efforts being undertaken in Canada and the EU when it comes to integrated pest management in agriculture.

Canadians and Europeans are increasingly concerned with how their food is grown and processed and its impact on the environment and public health. Considering the importance of the agriculture sector in meeting environmental and biodiversity objectives alongside the pursuit of socio-economic goals, this webinar looked at some of the efforts being undertaken in Canada and the EU when it comes to integrated pest management (IPM) in agriculture.

IPM is a step towards reducing the environmental burden of conventional pesticide use. Under this approach farmers use a variety of techniques to discourage the development of pest populations and keep agrochemical interventions to levels that are economically justified while seeking to minimise risks to human health and the environment. In this context, new technological and crop management options are being developed and these should drive progress in uptake of good practice at farm level.

The webinar looked to build mutual understanding of the approaches to and application of IPM in Canada and the EU, including linkages with the broader sustainable development and biodiversity objectives for the agriculture sector, highlight experience of funding, policy and regulatory initiatives that support the application of IPM practices, and showcase forward-looking public research and other initiatives that seek to further improve IPM practices and their uptake.

Many of the policy issues are the same in Canada as the EU, including the challenge of encouraging sufficiently large-scale adoption, the process of authorising new and often specialised products fast enough and securing funding for research and innovation. There is an interesting contrast between the use of incentive payments to farmers in the EU and the more market-based approach in Canada. However, a notable common theme was the value of supporting initiatives to foster exchange and group learning at farm level and they were strongly endorsed by the practicing farmers.

Insights from the panel

“The objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy are very much in line with those of IPM, which are to promote sustainability in farming and to have a holistic view to the way we produce food. [IPM] is central to achieving the pesticide targets of the Farm to Fork Strategy but also impacts other issues such as greenhouse gas, soil health, biodiversity and fertiliser use. We realise there have been weaknesses in implementation of IPM in Europe, so we are now in the process of looking at new legislation and strengthening the policy framework in this area so IPM can play an even greater role in achieving the Farm to Fork Strategy.”

— Andrew Owen-Griffiths, Head of Unit Plants & Organics, DG SANTE, European Commission

“In order to achieve sustainable crop protection and crop production, farmers need a variety of effective IPM tools available in their toolbox, and the Government of Canada supports research and innovation to enable technological advances leading to development and delivery of viable IPM solutions.”

“By reducing the pesticide load in the environment we believe that IPM helps minimize non-target effects of chemicals which directly benefit biodiversity and also preserving ecosystem services provided by beneficial species such as pollinators and natural enemies of pests. It is also a great tool to minimize the risk of pesticide resistance development – a big issue that we are encountering here in Canada.”

— Dr. Cezarina Kora, Manager, Pesticide Risk Reduction, Pest Management Centre, AAFC

“Society needs to comprehend that farmers do not apply pesticides without reason but in order to ensure productivity, manage entrepreneurial risk and compete in the market in terms of quality and price. Pesticide use is often cheaper than using alternatives such as biocontrol or mechanical pest and weed management. On the other hand, traders and consumers expect cheap and visually perfect products so the amount of pesticides needed to protect crops depends on the robustness of the farming system.”

“From my own experience probably the most important lesson is that in order to succeed with pesticide reduction it is essential to bring diversity back into agriculture. Farming systems can be redesigned and successfully adjusted based on the available knowledge on agro-ecology. The fact that there are so many successful regenerative farms shows that it can be done in practice.”

— Galina Peycheva-Miteva, Sustainable farmer, land manager and landowner based in central Bulgaria

“Pesticides are expensive, and farmers can only control their costs. When it comes to the weather, when it comes to prices – farmers can’t control these things. The cost of production is the bottom line, and the only place where farmers have true control of the variables. In the case of my farm, we’ve only had three or four insecticide applications in the last 25 years. [The reason] why is because it is expensive, and we know that these healthy ecosystems are critically important.”

“IPM is what will allow our farm to go through succession planning [and] transfer the soil, and ecosystems related to crop production, in better conditions then when we started.”

— Nevin Rosaasen, Grain, oilseed, pulse and specialty crop farmer from East-Central Saskatchewan

“Uptake [of biocontrol] is increasing and interest is high, as biocontrol delivers the productivity equivalent to chemistry once its use has been optimised on the farm. The huge advantage of biocontrol is that we are able to maintain and enhance biodiversity and soil health and there are human health advantages.”

“One of the things that would be hugely supportive [to the uptake of biocontrol] is to consider a definition of biocontrol; then we can start bringing biocontrol into CAP ecoschemes, […] providing incentives and reward for any business doing something new is very important. Here the CAP can help providing almost like an insurance for a farmer during the process of learning how to use something new. A definition of biocontrol can also facilitate the use of biocontrol as an indicator for IPM and the setting and measurement of targets around how much biocontrol we want.”

— Jennifer Lewis, Executive Director of International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association

“One of the things that I have always been fascinated by is what I cannot see. And what I cannot see are the microbes. There are millions if not billions of microbes that are so beneficial, and some of these chemicals can have a huge impact on these microbes which are beneficial microorganisms for the plant, for the soil and for all the other food networks… protecting the non-target species through reduced pesticides and using IPM can have a huge impact. It reduces the potential for air and groundwater contamination.”

“I am a firm believer that what I do in the lab at the end of the day has to reach the farmer and one of the best tools for this is IPM. That is why I have devoted so much of my research career to pursuing biological controls.”

— Dr. Dilantha Fernando, Professor, Dept. of Plant Science, University of Manitoba, Dean of Studies, St. Paul’s College