June 21. 2024. 7:13

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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.

Both the risk and use of synthetic pesticides in Europe should be slashed in half by 2030, as per the aims of the EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy.

In its proposals for a reformed regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products (SUR), which are currently being debated by the member states and the European Parliament, the European Commission foresees enshrining this in a binding, EU-wide target.

Germany has also committed to implementing the 50% target at the national level – and integrated pest management is a key element in the government’s plans to work towards this figure.

To work towards sustainable use of plant protection products, the ministry wants to “set a clear focus” on “strengthening integrated pest management” according to the conclusions of a government meeting on Germany’s plant protection national action plan.

Integrated Pest Management (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.

Futile government efforts?

To help soften the blow of phasing out hazardous pesticides and “develop alternative plant protection techniques and establish them in practice”, the agriculture ministry “supports farms through research funding and through the agricultural investment programme”, a ministry spokesperson told EURACTIV Germany.

Moreover, she added, the ministry is working on updating its sector- and crop-specific guidelines on IPM.

But despite all these efforts, the uptake of IPM techniques in Germany has been limited.

There is no direct data on the practical implementation of IPM principles in Germany, as the 2021 annual report on Germany’s national plant protection action plan points out.

But data on the use of synthetic pesticides can provide an indication of whether IPM techniques are effectively used to cut down on the former.

“In theory, you would expect that a full implementation of IPM would lead to a reduction in the use of pesticides – but this is not what we see,” Max Meister, policy officer at the German environmental NGO NABU told EURACTIV.

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The Member of the European Parliament leading the revision of the EU’s pesticide framework is pushing for more ambition both in targets and timelines for EU-wide pesticide cuts, according to a draft report seen by EURACTIV.

Lack of funding and training

Since 2009, when the application of IPM techniques became mandatory through the EU directive on the use of pesticides (SUD), pesticide sales in Germany only fell very slightly, from around 30,000 tonnes of active substances in 2009 to around 28,000 in 2020, according to data from the Federal Environment Agency.

For Meister, this is due to a variety of factors. For one, unlike IPM techniques, the use of synthetic pesticides is deeply ingrained in farmers’ habits as well as their education, while there is a lack of advisory services they can consult.

“Advisory offices are often completely understaffed and cannot keep up with demand,” he said, explaining that this void is “often filled by industry consultants, which act in their own economic interest, and this is at odds with reducing pesticides.”

The economic calculation is also rarely in favour of picking organic pest control techniques over pesticides, according to Meister. In his view, introducing financial incentives would be a step towards encouraging the uptake of an IPM approach.

This could be either negative incentives such as taxes on hazardous pesticides or positive ones in the form of compensation for financial losses incurred by reducing plant protection products – the eco scheme introduced this year is already a first example, albeit with limited financial weight, according to the activist.

European Parliament: Tax pesticides to fund integrated pest management

A national ‘risk-based tax’ on pesticides to fund more sustainable alternatives has been proposed by the European Parliament lawmaker leading the EU’s plans to slash the use and risk of plant protection products by 2030.

Challenges for wine, fruit, and vegetable production

Meanwhile, the German Farmers’ Union (DBV) stressed that farmers are already doing a lot to implement an IPM approach to plant protection, while an additional reduction of pesticide use would be a major challenge, especially for some sectors and regions in Germany.

“According to the EU Commission, Germany has implemented almost 100% of the content of the SUD,” Johann Meierhöfer, head of the DBV’s arable production department, told EURACTIV.

At the same time, he cautioned that moving away from chemical pesticides to the extent foreseen by the Commission’s proposal would lead to a loss of yields that could not be compensated by alternative, organic techniques.

“The use of less effective agents, whether synthetic or organic, inevitably has a negative impact on quality and crop yields,” he stressed.

For wine, fruit and vegetable production, the plans are especially challenging, according to Meierhöfer, also because very few low-risk alternatives have so far been approved for use in the EU.

“Wine production in the Kaiserstuhl region and vegetable production in the Palatinate will then be history, while potato growing is also likely to turn into a pure game of chance in large parts of Germany,” he warned.

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