Virtually all types of farms could cut pesticide use while still producing just as much food, and potentially even save money, a surprising new study found.

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The pesticide industry has grown side by side global agriculture, with most farmers today not even imagining farming without pesticides. A recent report released by the UN cast a big shadow on the necessity of pesticide usage, calling it ‘a myth’ supported by ‘aggressive and unethical marketing.’ Then, the UN reported that pesticides do a great deal of harm to the planet and ‘using pesticides has nothing to do with getting rid of hunger.’ That idea seems to be backed by a new research, whose authors analyzed the pesticide use, productivity, and profitability of almost 1,000 farms of all types across France.

Their conclusions are stunning: 78% of farms would be just as profitable or even more profitable if they reduced pesticide consumption. When it comes to insecticides, it gets even better: 94% of farms would lose no production if they cut insecticides, while 40% would actually produce more.

“It is striking,” said Nicolas Munier-Jolain, at France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research, and one of the team who conducted the new study. He said the results show that pesticide reduction is possible today for most arable farmers, without losing money: “Our results are quite consistent with the UN report.”

Munier-Jolain says that many farmers want to reduce or replace pesticides, but they don’t have much information available — in fact, most of the information they have comes from pesticide producers or distributors, who obviously have no interest in downplaying their products.

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However, this doesn’t mean that pesticides should simply be eliminated and everything will be fine, no one is saying that. What the team suggests is employing other measures such as rotating crops, mechanical weeding, using resistant varieties, and carefully managing sowing dates and fertilizer use. He believes that only when the farmers will be truly informed about their options will we be able to truly make a difference.

“If you want real reduction in pesticide use, give the farmers the information about how to replace them,” said Munier-Jolain. “This is absolutely not the case at the moment. A large proportion of advice is provided by organisations that are both selling the pesticides and collecting the crops. I am not sure the main concern of these organisations is to reduce the amount of pesticide used.”

So far, that’s not really happening. Take France for example, where a 50% reduction in national pesticide use was scheduled for 2018 and was delayed for 2025. Right now, usage is increasing instead of decreasing. In the US, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt refused to ban one of the most dangerous pesticides (chlorpyrifos), a measure that had been set in motion for years. Globally, it seems that the world is using more pesticides instead of less, and that’s a highly worrying trend. The good news is that the study concluded that farms which were using more pesticides had more potential for reducing their usage without any negative consequences.

The results of the study seem backed by some practical evidence as well. Sweden, for instance, has reduced much of its pesticide consumption with yields remaining constant, as have many rice farmers in Indonesia, with similar results. We also know that pests are developing more and more pesticide resistance, an issue which is causing more and more losses every year.

If this study stands true, it could make a big difference. The reduction of pesticide use is one of the critical drivers to preserve the environment and human health. Many of the chemicals used in pesticides are persistent soil contaminants, whose impact may endure for decades and adversely affect the entire ecosystem from the bottom-up: the soil, the plants which live in the soil, the animals which eat the plants, and so on. For humans, pesticides can cause both acute and long-lasting health issues. Direct exposure to pesticides is extremely dangerous, while pesticide runoff can create long-lasting environmental problems.

Journal Reference: Martin Lechenet, Fabrice Dessaint, Guillaume Py, David Makowski and Nicolas Munier-Jolain — Reducing pesticide use while preserving crop productivity and profitability on arable farms.