Reducing pesticide use while preserving crop productivity and profitability on arable farms

Abstract

Achieving sustainable crop production while feeding an increasing world population is one of the most ambitious challenges of this century1. Meeting this challenge will necessarily imply a drastic reduction of adverse environmental effects arising from agricultural activities2. The reduction of pesticide use is one of the critical drivers to preserve the environment and human health. Pesticide use could be reduced through the adoption of new production strategies35; however, whether substantial reductions of pesticide use are possible without impacting crop productivity and profitability is debatable617. Here, we demonstrated that low pesticide use rarely decreases productivity and profitability in arable farms. We analysed the potential conflicts between pesticide use and productivity or profitability with data from 946 non-organic arable commercial farms showing contrasting levels of pesticide use and covering a wide range of production situations in France. We failed to detect any conflict between low pesticide use and both high productivity and high profitability in 77% of the farms. We estimated that total pesticide use could be reduced by 42% without any negative effects on both productivity and profitability in 59% of farms from our national network. This corresponded to an average reduction of 37, 47 and 60% of herbicide, fungicide and insecticide use, respectively. The potential for reducing pesticide use appeared higher in farms with currently high pesticide use than in farms with low pesticide use. Our results demonstrate that pesticide reduction is already accessible to farmers in most production situations. This would imply profound changes in market organization and trade balance.

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Figure 1: Marginal effects of the total TFI.
Figure 2: Probability density of total TFI.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the farmers and farm advisors from the DEPHY network, the SCEP-DEPHY research project funded by the ONEMA (Office National de l'Eau et des Milieux Aquatiques). We also thank S. Cordeau and S. Petit for their relevant suggestions on the abstract. M.L.'s PhD fellowship was funded by Agrosolutions.

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N.M.J., D.M. and G.P. conceived the project; N.M.J. and G.P. contributed to data assembly; D.M. and F.D. contributed substantially to the methodology development; M.L. and F.D. analysed data; and M.L. wrote the paper, with substantial input from all authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martin Lechenet or Nicolas Munier-Jolain.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary Table 1. (PDF 1757 kb)

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Lechenet, M., Dessaint, F., Py, G. et al. Reducing pesticide use while preserving crop productivity and profitability on arable farms. Nature Plants 3, 17008 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nplants.2017.8

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