May 18. 2024. 3:12

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Integrated pest management a success in Spain, but more support needed

While Spanish farmers have embraced integrated pest management (IPM), as per EU rules on the matter, they say more support and research is needed to extend the application of the biological control.

In the greenhouses of Almería, in the south of Spain, farmers have taken organic production a step further – and are relying on insects and pheromones to control pests.

IPM is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on managing pests through a combination of techniques applied in order of hierarchy to minimise the use of chemical plant protection products.

In effect, it means that chemical pesticides should only be used as a last resort if all other efforts fail.

These principles have been embraced by Sergio López, head of organic farming for agricultural organisation COAG in the region of Andalusia and cucumber and watermelon producer.

In Almería, López told EURACTIV’s media partner EFEagro, large investments are needed, with persistent barriers to training and research.

The EU is in the process of reviewing the 2009 regulation on the sustainable use of pesticides (SUR). The proposal put forward by the European Commission leans heavily on the use of integrated pest management (IPM) as a way to to achieve its aim of seeing the use and risk of pesticides slashed in half by 2030.

Among the promoted practices are crop rotation, the use of resistant varieties, more natural fertilisation, equipment cleaning, biological control, and the restriction of the use of phytosanitary products, especially those considered high-impact.

In Spain, the new national action plan 2023-2024 on the sustainable use of phytosanitary products aims to promote IPM and reduce the risks and effects derived from the use of phytosanitary products on the human health and the environment.

It requires, for example, publishing data on risk indicators, improving information, reinforcing market surveillance of phytosanitary products, limiting their use in protected
areas or promoting innovation through the support of operating groups within the national strategic plan of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The EU takes for granted that conventional agriculture must comply with the regulations on pesticides, said Francisca Iglesias, general secretary of small farmers’ association UPA in Almería.

For that reason, she said, “there is no direct support” from the CAP, except if producers hire consultants for integrated pest control.

Producers who use pesticides are subject to inspections and, at the same time, they must have a phytosanitary management card, use authorised products, receive technical advice and write down the practices in their exploitation notebook, she described.

“IPM is quite well taken up,” she said, adding that in Almería farmers have been doing integrated control since 2003 and biological control has been a “good tool for managing pests and diseases”.

“Every time new viruses have emerged, more tolerant plants have been obtained and research has given a quick response to a very dynamic sector,” Iglesias stated.

Germany bets on integrated pest management for halving pesticide use

Implementing integrated pest management (IPM) is part of Germany’s toolbox to achieve the 50% reduction target the EU could set in its new pesticide legislation. But in practice, many hurdles stand in the way.

Sometimes, however, it does not make sense to use biocontrol for large outdoor areas that are home to less profitable crops, said Jan van der Blom, an expert from Coexphal, an association of organisations of fruit and vegetable producers of Almería.

Biopesticides can be still promoted and biodiversity increased, he said, though that will require a “change of organisation” and move away from monocultures.

However, with the planned SUR reform, “farmers are required to do a lot and there is very little commitment from the administrations”, van Der Blom said, calling for more support.

“Once farmers see that they can produce without these phytosanitary products, they do it with great pleasure,” he said.

Josefina Contreras of the Spanish Society of Organic Agriculture (SEAE) said that although biological control methods are prospering across crops, there is still “much to do” to support famers to implement these measures.

“It is essential to invest more in research and development of new products, such as
helpful insects, microorganisms and natural products,” Contreras said.