Europe has a recognised need for reducing chemical plant protection products and associated risks and for developing viable non-chemical alternatives, but this cannot be done overnight.
At the end of February, the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) was one of the signatories to the Towards Chemical Pesticide-Free Agriculture initiative of European research institutions. The initiative, signed at the Paris International Agricultural Show, involves 24 research institutions from 16 European countries. Ilkka P. Laurila signed the initiative in Luke’s name.
The initiative combines the forces of research institutions to produce research themes for the EU-funded Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. Thus, the initiative responds to EU strategies aimed to discontinue the use of chemical plant protection products in Europe as part of the EU Commission’s Green Deal programme.
The goal is to increase research data
The research initiative does not directly aim to provide political guidance for stopping the use of chemical plant protection, but to produce research data to support decision-making processes so that Europe is ready when it is willing to make the transition in the future. This calls for changes in mindsets and extensive multidisciplinary research in various sectors.
Research data is needed to support the development and use of alternative agricultural methods and practices in the long term. The goal is to improve the profitability of agriculture and the health of crops by means of plant disease resistance, crop rotation and nutrient balance. Extensive interdisciplinary and international research cooperation is needed in terms of cultivation practices, plant breeding, technologies, agricultural economics, political steering, consumer behaviour, global trade and environmental impact assessments so that the impact of the transition can be forecasted and new methods can be implemented in Europe.
Luke emphasises the need for various new methods with regard to plant protection. Finnish markets for chemical plant protection products are small, and not many chemical products are available for different crop protection problems.
Luke emphasises the need for various new methods with regard to plant protection. Finnish markets for chemical plant protection products are small, and not many chemical products are available for different crop protection problems. As resistance risks are increasing, we need non-chemical options alongside chemical products. Research is needed to develop new biological protection concepts and integrated pest management (IPM) methods, the use of which supplements conventional chemical methods. Research institutions play a central part in producing this research data, and European cooperation is necessary to predict general long-term development.
Preparing for future challenges
Organic production and its comprehensive agroecological crop protection practices show that pests can be controlled using non-chemical methods. Then again, as climate change moves forward, we will face new challenges, against which no chemical products or solutions are available or they are not effective. The large-scale adoption of new methods and technologies requires that farmers are provided with training and guidance, effectively communicating new research breakthroughs.
As climate change moves forward, we will face new challenges, against which no chemical products or solutions are available or they are not effective.
This is the type of research cooperation the research institutions that signed the initiative aim to advance. The initiative was launched by INRAE, ZALF and JKI, French and German research institutions for agriculture. To prepare the initiative, international research seminars were held for two years in France, Germany and Finland, with Luke and the Finnish Organic Research Institute being actively involved.
Cooperation within the research community will also be continued, for example, through seminars and workshops to come up with new shared ideas for projects. Our task is to communicate the societal significance of the initiative and to continue our dialogue with the European Commission, European Parliament and national bodies on the replacement of chemical plant protection products with other methods.
Signed at the Paris International Agricultural Show
The initiative was signed at the Paris International Agricultural Show, held right in the centre of Paris. The one-week trade fair was expected to have 700,000 to 800,000 visitors. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the event was closed one day early.
The initiative was signed at the stand of the French National Institute for Agriculture, Food, and Environment (INRAE), where the theme was “Agricultural systems in 2030 and beyond”. In her address, Amélie de Montchalin, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, highlighted European research cooperation.
During the evening, visitors were able to talk with various representatives of INRAE, such as Philippe Mauguin, President and CEO of INRAE; Christian Huyghe, Deputy Scientific Director Agriculture; and Jean-François Soussana, Vice President for International Affairs.
INRAE is a French research and innovation institute, established at the beginning of 2020 through the merger of INRA (approximately 10,000 employees) and IRSTEA (1,500 employees).
Key information about INRAE
INRAE is France’s new National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment, created on January 1, 2020.
It was formed by the merger of INRA, the National Institute for Agricultural Research, and IRSTEA, the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for the Environment and Agriculture.
With the overarching goal of promoting sustainable development, the work is centered on six major themes:
• Climate change and risks
• Food, global health
• Society and regional strategies
• 11,500 staff members including 2,000 researchers, 3,100 engineers and assistant engineers, and 3,300 technicians
• 18 centres, 14 research divisions
• 268 research units, experimental research units and support units
• €30.9M in revenue
• A budget of 1 billion euros
• 10,000 ha of experimental land