LIFE AGROINTEGRA, winner of the 2019 LIFE awards, showed that integrated pest management is a viable alternative to chemical pesticides on farms. It ran trials with farmers in Navarre in Spain, where natural predators, bio-insecticides, cover crops and other methods enabled a 45% reduction in pesticides used on fruit trees, vineyards and vegetables.
LIFE spoke with Ms Delia Sola from the Government of Navarre about the project’s legacy.
Could you briefly explain how LIFE AGROINTEGRA's activities helped support the EU's approach to tackling pollinator decline?
Crop protection methods that use pesticides exclusively and excessively have a harmful effect on wild fauna, changing their habitats and reducing available resources. One of the main objectives of LIFE AGROintegra was to demonstrate the environmental benefits of alternative methods that help reduce the environmental risks of crop protection and modify agro-ecosystems as little as possible. We ran many activities to demonstrate and disseminate techniques that contribute to increased biodiversity and pollinators in crops.
The project helped expand a long-running technique to use hedgerows, flower strips and cover crops in field margins and free spaces between crops. These provide habitats near crops and create treatment-free spaces that act as biological reservoir. They can favour the population of pollinators that improve fruit tree, vine and vegetable production, or support increased levels of animals that predate and control pests.
We planted various flower and cover crops and checked them regularly to evaluate the population of pollinators and auxiliary fauna. We used different species mixtures with varied flowering periods to get more diverse fauna and to adapt to farmers’ crop cycles as much as possible.
The project achieved an impressive average of 45% reduction in pesticides on the 11 crops tested. What's been the feedback from farmers who were involved in the trials?
Farmers really appreciated that they could test the technical and economic efficacy of the techniques in a very practical way, in their own plots. They agree that progress is needed so they can tackle the problems they see with their crops.
Economically, these techniques entail an additional expense in crop protection. But in some cases this is not very high, and increased product quality and revaluation may be enough to compensate. Using these techniques more widely could also reduce mid-term costs.
After two years of experience, many farmers supported by the cooperatives and agro-food industries that took part in the project decided to continue using the project’s strategy. Other farmers are also taking up the techniques. We found that in some cases, they were actually more effective than using pesticides.
What kind of take-up of the decision support tools has there been within the agro-food sector?
Here we are talking about two essential decision-making support tools (DST): the Pest Monitoring and Warning System (PMWS) and the AGROintegra DST that connects platforms and which offers users customised plot-level information about the risk of pests at different times.
During the 2018 season after the project finished, 21 technicians worked on the PMWS. 164 monitoring points were checked every week, with some 135 warnings and around 50 informative sheets with practical instructions delivered.
One of the goals of the project was to expand this system with new data. What does this involve?
We created a platform that offers real-time information about 164 monitoring points. Farmers and experts can build on this by contributing data about phenology and the evolution of pests on their own crops.
The system provides data including crop and pest descriptions, non-chemical control methods, pest alerts, geographical-based pest risks, historical risk data, and monitoring via control and weather stations.
What experiences would you like to share about the project's achievements, especially for other projects working in sustainable pest management?
We showed that progress to reduce the environmental impact of crop protection is possible with collaboration between stakeholders and with knowledge-sharing. We can thank 72 farmers from cooperatives and agro-industries for this work. We need to carry on using these techniques, defining thresholds, encouraging training and advice on integrated pest management and try to find new disease control strategies.
Image 1: Ladybird. © LIFE13 ENV/ES/000665
Image 2: Mixed crops. © LIFE13 ENV/ES/000665