Reducing pesticide use – and eventually eradicating it?

6 Feb

In September, a UK government chief scientific adviser warned that the assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false. This followed other highly critical reports on pesticides, including research showing most farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and a UN report that denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.

“There is undoubtedly scope to reduce pesticide use – that is a given,” said Bill Parker, director of research at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. “The majority of crop protection advice given in the UK is from agronomists tied to companies who make their money from selling pesticides,” he said. “There is a commercial drive and they will tend to take a prophylactic approach.

A Moseley reader sent a link to an article by Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor.

It described a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) In which long strips of bright wildflowers were planted through crop fields to boost the natural predators of pests and potentially cut pesticide spraying. In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

Prof Richard Pywell (CEH), who carried out an extensive study on the effects of neonicotinoids,  notes that though wildflower strips planted around fields to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles, slashed pest numbers in crops and even increased yields, the natural predators were unable to reach the centre of large crop fields.

GPS-guided harvesters can now precisely reap crops, avoiding strips of wildflowers – including oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot planted 100m apart through crop fields. They are left as refuges all year round and the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field, according to Pywell’s initial tests.

Pywell said the hope is that natural predators can keep pests in check from year to year, so there are never major outbreaks: “That would be the ideal – that you never need to spray.”

 

 

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