Cutting pesticides without cutting profits? Yes says French research
Cutting Pesticides – A research project in France looking at the use of pesticides in relation to profitability on French farms has produced results that have been surprising to many in the farming industry. The results, however, may only favour smaller farms found in the EU, and not the large scale industrial farms of North America.
Cutting Pesticides – The project itself
The study was conducted using data collected from approximately 950 non-organic French farms and was looking specifically at the relationship between pesticide use and a farm’s profitability. The study produced several unexpected results, the headline being that in 77 per cent of farms, there was no negative effect on profitability when the use of pesticides was reduced. Following on from that, 94 percent of farms could cut pesticide use without compromising crop yield, and use could be reduced by 42 percent before more than half the farms tested saw any loss. Around 40 percent of that group were able to show an increase in profits when cutting pesticides use. This is due in the main to the relatively high cost of chemicals and the cost of application.
As with all research projects, there are caveats attached to the results, one of which is that farmers would need to have alternative pest reduction strategies in place. These may include introducing new weeding methods and implementing a crop rotation system. The researchers also stressed that with the reduction in pesticide use there would come other changes which would have to be addressed. It is not just a matter of reducing the use of a pesticide in ensuring business as usual.
Pesticides and the American Farm
This research may lead to worthwhile changes for French farmers but will it work in the US? The answer to this is that it is a useful piece of research that complements a study conducted in 2016, which suggested that genetically modified (GM) crops do not reduce the use of chemicals to control pests. However, the research results may not be the answer in America.
GM crops are banned almost entirely in France, even GM maize from Monsanto, which is allowed in other EU countries. But in the US, 93 percent of all crops grown, including 88 percent of corn, are genetically modified. The US grows GM crops because they have pesticides built-in or they work well with them.
American farms are generally far larger than farms in France, with the average farm size in France being 53 hectares while in the US it’s 175. And farm size does indeed play a part in the French research project. If we consider the figure again of 77 per cent of farms being able to cut pesticide use without affecting profitability, this leaves 23 per cent which were affected. This 23 percent were large-scale farm enterprises with greater similarities to the American model, producing an industrial crop with high added value and high pesticide use. The results of the French study, for the large-scale sector, showed that it was very difficult to reduce the use of pesticides on these large farms without an adverse effect on profitability.
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