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Pesticide Legislation

Letter to the editor of the Irish Farmers Journal published 10 May 2008 Vol 61 No 19 page 20

Dear Sir

I find myself rather perplexed by the reactions of many in agriculture, both farmers and researchers, to the proposed changes in EU pesticide / chemical legislation, perhaps summed as “agriculture can’t survive without ‘chemical’ pesticides”.  Buy why the focus on pesticides?  I have yet to meet a farmer (although I guess a few must exist) that consider applying pesticides to be an enjoyable task, my strong impression is that most consider them something of a ‘necessary evil’ as they don their layers of protective clothing.  Synthetic chemical pesticides are only one part of farmers’ possible armoury.  Internationally, pest, diseases and weed management is now increasingly achieved through integrated approaches, which, while they still use chemical pesticides, are increasingly based on biological methods.  Integrated approaches are proving more effective over both the short and the especially the long term as they are designed to avoid the evolution of resistance, something that is close to inevitable with single action chemical pesticides, as reported in the Journal’s 3 May issue.  They can also be cheaper and simpler, for example, in New Zealand caterpillars on wine grapevines are controlled by providing their parasitoids with extra food in the form of buckwheat flowers.  Viticulturalists using such methods no longer have to spray to control caterpillars, saving time, money and improving the image and quality of their product.  It is increasingly clear that evolution and legislation will only result in fewer chemical pesticides, yet there is no theoretical reason why integrated management cannot be achieved for every pest disease and weed in Irish agriculture.  I suggest that Irish cereal farmers would be more than delighted if a biological solution to aphids was found, e.g., that by planting some grass strips, they never had to spray for aphids again, saved money and had higher yields.  Ironically such techniques are already half developed.  What is needed is vision, research and a shedding of the blinkered view that synthetic chemical pesticides are the only solution to agricultural pest problems. 

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Copyright 2008 Charles N. Merfield.