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Soil Health and Pest Management: Challenges in the European Union

CERTIS

05/07/2022

Jackie Pucci of AgriBusiness Global sat down with Dr. Arben Myrta, Corporate Development Manager with Certis Belchim B.V., based in Italy, to discuss developments in soil health and pest management solutions at the company and wider trends he is witnessing in the space.

Dr Arben Myrta, Certis Belchim B.V.
Quality produce with good soil pest management
Damage by Fusarium wilt in melon
Destroyed tomato plants from the attack of Meloidogyne spp.
Damaged roots of tomato by the nematode Meloidogyne spp.
Nematode damage in carrots from Meloidogyne spp.

Can you talk about some of the key developments in ‘soil health management’ in agriculture and what is driving adoption in Europe?

Soil health in its broad scientific definition considers its capacity, thanks to biotic and abiotic components, to function as a vital living ecosystem to sustain plants and animals. A soil may be healthy in terms of the functioning of its eco-system but not necessarily for crop production. In agriculture, good soil pest management remains a cornerstone for the quantity and quality of production at farm level. When farmers cultivate the same plants for a long time in the same soil without crop rotations or other agronomic measures, the soil starts to evidence nutritional and phytopathological problems for the plants. This is more evident in horticulture, and particularly, in protected crops in Europe, where this problem is of major importance.

In the past, in Europe, soil pest management in horticulture was mostly covered by chemical fumigation, lead first by methyl bromide (MB). MB was later globally banned for depleting the ozone layer, while other fumigants, which were intended to replace it, were not approved during the regulatory renewal process, thus creating a gap between the farmers’ needs and the possibilities to have adequate solutions for their cropping.  Meanwhile, in the last decades there has also been huge progress in research and technology, developing more effective biorational soil products (beneficial microorganisms, such as fungi, bacteria, etc.., plant extracts, etc..) and increased public awareness around human health and the environment, followed by more restrictive legislation on the use of chemicals in agriculture.

Driven by the legislation and the general attention of society on the use of plant protection products in agriculture, the industry has been proactive in looking for new solutions with safer tox and eco-tox profile, focusing on biorational products, whose number, as new plant protection products for the control of soil-borne pests and diseases, is continuously increasing in the EU.

How important do you see soil health and soil pest management in the complete picture of agricultural productivity, and how has that view changed?

Soil health and good soil pest management practices in crop production have always been considered important. In Europe, the level of attention and knowledge on this topic has been higher among professionals and farmers working in horticulture, the ornamentals industry, nurseries and particularly protected crops, basically everywhere where long crop rotations are not easily practiced, and pest-infested soils become a big problem for the farmers.

The rapid banning or limitation of several traditional synthetic products used to control soil pests raised the question for field advisors and farmers of how to deal with soil problems in the new situation. In recent years European farmers have been facing particular difficulties in controlling plant-parasitic nematodes.

Biorational products available today in EU countries represent a very good tool for the management of several soil pests in many crops and targets, but are still not sufficiently effective to guarantee full satisfaction to the growers in important crops like protected fruiting vegetables, strawberry, carrots, potato, ornamentals, etc., which explains why ‘emergency uses’ are still granted at EU country level following the request of grower associations to cover the needs of their farmers. The continuous increase in the numbers of new biorational products in the future, and particularly the innovative formulations that will follow, will be of paramount importance for their role in soil pest management.

A second, but important obstacle, is the generally limited knowledge on soil components (including its fertility and capacity to suppress pests by beneficial microorganisms) and the correct use of the biorational products, which cannot be expected to be effective quickly or be used as solo products, as the ‘old’ chemicals were. They should be seen more in programs with other soil management solutions, as recommended by the integrated production guidelines. Here, a further important obstacle is the lack of an effective public extension service to advise farmers, which is limited or totally lacking in many European Countries.

Everybody in the EU is now convinced that soil management in the future will rely on biorational and integrated solutions, but the question is how to reach this objective gradually, being pragmatic and reliable, balancing the environmental, economic and agricultural perspective. Legislation always steers the direction of progress but should be carefully considering the real product capabilities to make it happen in a short time and not focusing on ‘emergency situations’ as has now been the case for more than a decade.

What are some of the perceptions, either correct or incorrect, and other challenges you are dealing with in the region with respect to products for soil health?

This market has seen a rapid change from chemistry to biorational solutions, but in the meantime is facing a lot of challenges in order to meet the expectations of the farmers for quantity and quality of produce. This topic is widely discussed in dedicated scientific forums like that of the International Society of Horticultural Sciences, of which the last International Symposium on Soil and Substrate Disinfestation was held in 2018 in Crete, Greece. A dedicated round table was organized with soil experts to discuss the important challenges faced by the European growers due to the lack of plant protection solutions for an effective control of several soil pests, most of all nematodes. I participated in that round table discussion, whose main conclusions were the following concerns, considered as target actions for the scientific community:

  • the farmer needs various tools for soil disinfestation (SD) in the light of the limited current arsenal of SD tools;
  • the lengthy and unpredictable European registration process (sometimes more than 10 years from dossier submission to the first national approval) of new plant protection products (including biorational) and the cautious approach of EU regulation, as well as restrictions imposed, has led to a reduction of active ingredients available in the past years;
  • a more effective and faster evaluation system is needed, especially for naturally occurring and low risk products (biological, plant extracts, etc.). That is, all products which are essential for Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs;
  • following the implementation of Regulation EC 1107/2009, the only tool available to fill the gaps in local production systems is Art. 53 of the above-mentioned Regulation, which provides “derogations” for exceptional authorizations of plant protection products. Such authorizations increased exponentially in the last years, indicating that existing solutions in the European market are not considered sufficient;
  • the above-mentioned EU Regulation has a high socio-economic impact on various production systems in Europe and a Spanish case shows clearly the importance of maintaining a sustainable agricultural activity in local communities that, in the case of protected crops area, includes 13% of the active population employed in agriculture;
  • several European agricultural sectors are affected as the EU authority is allowing increased importation from extra-EU countries, considered unfair competition due to their more flexible registration system for plant protection products than that of the EU;
  • reduced capacity of soil pest research, where experts are retired and not being replaced, alongside weak, or in many areas non-existent, extension services together are causing the loss of soil knowledge and good advice for our farmers. Today, soil diagnosis is frequently completely lacking or insufficient before any soil pest and crop management decisions are taken.

The clear message from the scientific experts at that meeting was that these issues must be correctly addressed at all levels of stakeholders, in such a way that all available tools, including sustainable use of soil disinfestation, may be used in a combined IPM system to allow sustainable production in Europe.

What are some of the most exciting developments at Certis Belchim in soil health and pest management?

Since the establishment of Certis Europe in 2001, we have focused on soil pest and disease management. In 2003, Certis built the first CleanStart program providing integrated solutions for sustainable soil management, combining cultural, biological and chemical approaches. After more than a decade, in the mid-2010s, the CleanStart integrated approach started combining biological and chemical inputs with agronomic services (training to farmers and field advisors, soil pest diagnosis support for partner farms and stewardship product advice for applicators and/or farmers) to provide sustainable soil management for the future, aligned with the principles of the Sustainable Use of pesticides as per the EU Directive. All these activities were carried out successfully thanks to a wide international network created with many research institutes across Europe on soil pest management topics. This approach facilitated our participation in soil research projects funded also by the EU. Thanks to this experience we have been able to prepare and share many publications and communications, in particular the coordination for several years of an International Newsletter on Soil Pest Management (CleanStart).

Last year we were also granted a SMART Expertise funding from the Welsh Government, which is co-founded by Certis, in a research project lead by Swansea University, with Certis Belchim B.V. the industry partner, alongside major Welsh growers, Maelor Forest Nurseries Ltd and Puffin Produce Ltd. This project, now ongoing, looks to develop new and innovative products to control soil pests, primarily nematodes.

Thanks to this team involvement on soil topics, our present soil portfolio includes several biorational solutions such as Trichoderma spp. (TriSoil), Bacillus spp. (Valcure), garlic extract (NemGuard), etc. and this is continuously increasing through our research and development pipeline. With the soil biorational products we have developed a good knowledge not only on the products, but also in their interaction with biotic and abiotic soil components and with other similar products.

Our new company, Certis Belchim, in the future will continue to be particularly interested in this market segment and will be focusing mostly on biorational products. Our plans mainly encompass: (i) label extension to more crops and targets for the existing products; (ii) development and registration of new active ingredients for the control of soil borne pathogens, insects and nematodes; (iii) development of innovative formulations for soil use with focus on slow-release; (iv) field validation of effective programs with bio-solutions and other control methods.

In all these research and development activities, supported by the long experience we have in such topics, we are looking to generate our own IP solutions for soil pest management.

How have you seen this space evolve over the past of years, and what are you expecting the next years will bring?

From a technical perspective, we expect the nematode problems to increase globally in the future. This is due in part to the gradual global increase in average temperature, now recorded over recent decades, which will allow the most damaging nematodes, Meloidogyne spp., to establish at higher elevation and higher latitudes while in areas already infested, they will develop for a longer damaging period of time, thus leading to larger nematode soil population densities by the end of the crop cycle and, in turn, to greater damage to the succeeding crops.

From a regulatory perspective in Europe, if the approval process for new effective nematicides is not shortened and remains as restrictive as today, less effective solutions will be available, and there will be more reductions in rates and crops on which their use is permitted (e.g. not every year). This again will certainly lead to an increase in the severity of the nematodes that in many areas could be overlooked.

From a quarantine perspective, the globalization of trade has facilitated the introduction into Europe of new damaging nematodes and diseases and pests in general, events which are expected to increase in the future. The most critical situation can occur in protected and nursery crops, and for the production of healthy propagating material of annual crops, such as potato seed, bulbs and seeds of bulbous plant crops, including flowers, strawberry runners, woody nursery plants, of both crop and ornamental plants, and in all crops for which quarantine issues must be considered, especially when seeds, bulbs and any kind of plant propagating material are to be exported out of the EU.

The expectation is also that positive results will come from public research (more focus on resources is needed) and private industry where work is ongoing to bring to the market new biorational solutions and innovative methods with higher efficacy in controlling soil pests and to fulfill the increasing needs of this market. However, this will only be realized if regulatory hurdles are reduced in the EU, for example for low risk biorational solutions.

How are external factors (e.g., soaring input costs) impacting the adoption of these products?

Today agriculture and plant protection products, like the whole economy, are affected by higher prices due to the increased cost of energy and raw materials globally. Considering that the costs in agricultural production are already high and sometimes, those of soil pest control are not applicable for several crops, any further increase in production costs may lead to the abandonment of effective solutions, resulting in additional increase in the complexities of soil problems on our farms. This trend, if allowed to persist, will severely affect our agricultural sector.

This said, there will also be a potential increase in the new solutions entering the market in the coming years, which will face higher costs during development and the registration process as well.

From a technical perspective, the only way to reduce such risks is to support farmers with the right knowledge on how to use new soil products correctly (dose rate, timing and method of application, etc..) and increase cost effectiveness.

Can you share highlights of research and case studies that your company has conducted with respect to soil health?

Our company has been involved in many research and market studies dedicated to the soil pest management sector. The last important one was ‘Sustainability of European vegetable and strawberry production in relation to fumigation practices,’ prepared by a European team of independent soil experts. The aim of the study was to understand technically the role and economic impact of chemical soil fumigation in key European areas of vegetable and strawberry production. Three cases of representative crops were investigated: strawberries, solanaceous/cucurbitaceous crops cultivated under protected conditions and carrots as a relevant open field crop.

The study concluded that vegetable production is a key agricultural sector in Europe: including high-value crops like solanaceous and cucurbitaceous crops produced under protected conditions (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers and melons), carrots and strawberries, the production value at farmer level is €12.5 billion; the cultivated area involved is roughly 330,000 ha. The importance of these crops is even greater when the entire food value chain, in economic and social terms, is also considered.

High standards in terms of food quality/safety and certificated production, along with affordable consumer prices and consistent availability across the seasons are demanded of European vegetable production and, as a consequence, are the drivers for the growers who have to protect such crops effectively and economically. The growers face very significant issues deriving from soil-borne pests, which are the key limiting factor to achieving quality and economically sustainable yields. As strongly indicated by farmers and crop experts, among the soil-borne pests, nematodes present the most impactful and frequent challenges.

According to the survey carried out in key EU countries (Spain, Italy, France, Belgium,…), the most common soil management practices for vegetable crops and strawberries are: chemical fumigation, crop rotation, resistant cultivars and rootstocks, followed by soil-less systems, non-fumigant treatments, soil solarization, biological products, organic soil amendments, catch and cover crops.

This shows clearly that soil pest management today and in the near future will rely on IPM systems combining and rotating different management practices, with a different degree of implementation depending on the cropping system.

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What role can genetics play in ‘designing’ more sustainable crops, livestock and trees?

Rodolphe Barrangou | National Academy of Engineering | July 1, 2022

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Plants, animals and microbes can be improved with gene editing. Credit: Carys-ink
Plants, animals and microbes can be improved with gene editing. Credit: Carys-ink

The ability to engineer genomes and tinker with DNA sequences with unprecedented ease, speed, and scale is inspiring breeders of all biological entities. Genome engineers have deployed CRISPR tools in species from viruses and bacteria to plants and trees (whose genome can be 10 times larger than the human genome), including species used in food and agriculture (Zhu et al. 2020).

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Starting small, bacteria used in food fermentations have had their genomes enhanced to optimize their functional attributes linked to the flavor and texture of fermented dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. The fact that CRISPR-Cas systems provide adaptive immunity against viruses in dairy bacteria led to the commercial launch, more than a decade ago, of bacterial starter cultures with enhanced phage immunity in industrial settings. Most fermented dairy products are now manufactured using CRISPR-enhanced starter cultures. Since then, a variety of bacteria, yeast, and fungi (figure 2) involved in the manufacturing of bioproducts has also been CRISPR enhanced to yield commercial products such as enzymes, detergents, and dietary supplements.

Moving along the farm-to-fork spectrum, most commercial crops—from corn, soy, wheat, and rice to fruits and vegetables—have had their genomes altered (figure 2). Genome engineering is used to increase yield (e.g., meristem size, grain weight) and improve quality (e.g., starch and gluten content), pest resistance (e.g., to bacteria, fungi, viruses), and environmental resilience (e.g., to drought, heat, frost). For instance, nonbrowning mushrooms with extended shelf life can be generated, and tomatoes with increased amounts of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) to enhance brain health have been commercialized. In addition, efforts are underway to enhance nutritional value.

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Credit: NAE

Livestock breeders have joined the fray, with genome engineering of main farm species such as swine (leaner bacon), poultry (CRISPR chicken), and cattle (for both meat and dairy). Swine have also been edited with a viral receptor knockout to prevent porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome; the approach is being evaluated for regulatory approval (Burkard et al. 2017). Breeding applications include hornless cows (for more humane treatment), resistance to infectious disease (tuberculosis in cattle), and removal of viral sequences in the genome of elite commercial livestock,[1] notably swine. The CRISPR zoo also encompasses genetically diverse species—fish (tiger-puffer and red sea bream), cats (efforts are underway to develop hypoallergenic variants), and even butterflies (wing pattern)—illustrating the ability to deploy this technology broadly.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here

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Plant Protection EBA Data in Action Technical Brief

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Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Food Security

Jan 26, 2018

Row of corn/maize, photo by Fintrac Kenya KHCP
Row of corn/maize. Photo by Fintrac Kenya USAID KHCP project.

Reliable pest management and robust pest control at country borders go hand in hand with strong agricultural and agribusiness sectors. Strong plant protection regulatory frameworks facilitate safe trade and help safeguard agriculture and the significant developments that have been achieved so far. Currently, Africa continues to battle an outbreak of invasive, transboundary pests including the Fall Armyworm (FAW). This pest was first reported in mainland West Africa (Nigeria, Togo, Benin) and the island of Sao Tome (Sao Tome and Principe) in early 2016 and is confirmed to be present in 28 African countries including several Feed the Future countries, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal. FAW in Africa has caused significant damage to maize crops in particular, a staple crop in many countries. Invasion by FAW will further impact international trade, since countries where the pest has not yet been detected are expected to place additional production or handling requirements on exports from FAW–affected countries (Day et al., 2017). Affected countries in Africa are prioritizing immediate and long-term solutions to mitigate and contain the devastating impacts of FAW. 

This brief, authored by the Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Food Security project, offers timely considerations for mitigating and addressing Fall Armyworm in Africa in the near and long term. The brief synthesizes plant protection data available through the 2017 World Bank Enabling the Business of Agriculture Index to identify opportunities to strengthen the regulatory environment for plant protection in sub-Saharan Africa and in support of the US Government Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS).

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We are pleased to announce that the 7th Asian PGPR International Conference for Sustainable Agriculture 2022 will be held from 23rd to 26th August 2022 at Universiti Putra Malaysia. The Malaysian PGPR Society and Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia will co-organize the event on behalf of the Asian PGPR Society for Sustainable Agriculture.

This year’s theme for the conference is “Regenerating Agriculture Through Beneficial Microbes for Improvement of Crop Productivity and Safety”. The conference agenda will cover the most recent scientific discoveries that decipher the role of beneficial microbes in plant development, disease suppression and increase yield by direct or indirect mechanisms. Plant-microbe interactions in the rhizosphere are pivotal in carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling and ecosystem functioning and undoubtedly will be continually the main focus in the coming decades.

The conference will showcase various recent topics in plant-microbe interactions by distinguished keynotes, plenary speakers, as well as selected oral speakers and poster presentations by participants. The conference promises an attractive scientific program, with opportunities for networking and collaboration in addition to acquisition of the fusion of knowledge, technologies, ideas, and innovation.

Scope 
PGPR in crop production and disease management to feed the growing population.
Soil microbiome and nano-based plant biostimulants.
Plant-microbe interactions and mode of action.
PGPR and mitigation of climate change effects.
Commercialization of PGPR as bio-pesticides, bio-fertilizers and bio-stimulants for safe and healthy food.
Regulatory constraints and global harmonization.
Role of MOUs, global funding opportunities and education, training and interactions among stakeholders.

Important dates 

Early registration: On / Before 30th April 2022

Late registration: After 30th April 2022
Abstract deadline: 30th June 2022
Full Paper deadline: 31st July 2022

Registration and rates
Information regarding registration and rates can be obtained online at: www.pgpr.org.my/ or online registration at tinyurl.com/f8x5ec9b.
Further inquiries can be directed to the Secretariat: 7thpgpr@gmail.com

Submission of abstracts at 7thpgprabstract@gmail.com

Professor Dr. Mui-Yun Wong (NCSU)

Local Organizing Chairperson

Deputy Director

Institute of Plantation Studies

Universiti Putra Malaysia

Tel: +603-9769 4261

Fax: +603-9769 4166

Email: muiyun@upm.edu.my 

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LITERATURE REVIEW ON BIOCONTROL

In her foreword to the book Hulot, J.F. and Hiller, N. (2021) ‘Exploring the benefits of biocontrol for sustainable agriculture – A literature review on biocontrol in light of the European Green Deal’, Dr. Faustine Bas-Defossez, External Impact Director at Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), states that “The science is unequivocal on the need to move rapidly towards a sustainable food and farming system in order to stay within planetary boundaries. The European Green Deal, in particular its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, aims at setting the way towards that new system of food production and consumption. As a systemic and balanced alternative to chemical inputs in farming, biocontrol is certainly an enabler of that system change.

As an independent think tank striving for sustainability and science-based policymaking, we were very enthusiastic when IBMA approached us to conduct a literature review on the benefits of biocontrol for the environment and its wider economic, climate and governance impacts. We indeed believe that such evidence is needed for informed and sound decision-making on the European Green Deal objectives implementation”.

Reducing harmful pressures on the environment is key to creating a sustainable and healthy food system. The political and technical conversation about agricultural production and plant protection methods, especially in the context of the European Green Deal and the Farm-to-Fork strategy, increasingly revolves around the effects of different inputs on biodiversity and health.

Biocontrol, at its core, aims at not causing harm to the environment, non-targeted species and human health. The four technical categories of biocontrol are macro-organisms (invertebrates), micro-organisms (viruses, bacteria and fungi), semio-chemicals (pheromones) and natural substances. Compared to the typically linear vision to plant protection with chemical products, biocontrol considers the structural approach of understanding the farm ecosystem of life cycles, insects’ behavior and the influence of agronomic practices on plant health. Biocontrol thereby becomes a key enabler of the European Green Deal in forming part of a system approach to sustainable agriculture. Based on a literature review, this paper explores the roles of biocontrol in a pathway towards sustainable agriculture, with both a focus on biodiversity and health and its potential wider impacts.

Drawing from the literature, biocontrol functions for plant protection and supports of biodiversity by significantly reducing the chemical pressure in the field. As a targeted measure, it has few adverse effects on non-targeted fauna and flora, thereby contributing to the maintenance and improvement of agricultural biodiversity. Soil quality and health equally benefit from decreasing harmful residues and contamination. The use of biocontrol can thereby contribute to a favorable status of microbial communities. Lower negative impacts on human health can equally be identified, where biological approaches can deliver for the safety of both consumers and farmworkers. The effectiveness of natural pest control enemies can be amplified by creating ecological focus areas. In addition, biocontrol performs best in a system of sustainable farming practices. Growing evidence for the efficacy of biocontrol products, in the EU and around the world, resulted both in a higher EU approval rate and an expected market growth for products of around 15% a year over the next five years.

The deployment of biocontrol, by incorporating farmers’ experiences in the implementation process, paves the way for widespread adoption of Integrated Pest Management techniques, organic agriculture and agro-ecological farming. Based on the literature review, policy considerations include a need for a common EU definition for greater clarity in political discussions, an assessment of the legal framework, a push for greater field application and further research needs. While more research of concrete interactions between all categories of biocontrol and biodiversity support is suggested, the literature highlights the positive impact of biocontrol in lowering chemical residues, its benefits in favorable environments and its targeted use. As a non-chemical input, biocontrol can offer a systemic and balanced solution for sustainable agriculture. The video of the launching event can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1KXR12PBoM

Dr. Roma Gwynn

IAPPS Biopesticide Industry Representative

Director of BioRationale

E-mail: rgwynn@biorationale.co.uk  

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OPINION EXCHANGE 600042914

Minnesota is poised to lead an environmental breakthrough

Minnesota StarTribune

Pending bills would give communities local control over pesticides, safeguard protected wildlife areas and more. By Karin Winegar APRIL 6, 2021 — 5:29PM

NICOLE NERI • NICOLE.NERI@STARTRIBUNE.COMBees are one of the many pollinators harmed by pesticides.TEXT SIZEEMAILPRINTMORE

When I was a child in a southern Minnesota farm town, summers were filled with bird music, bee hum, firefly light and frog song. Then the city sprayed with what I presume was DDT. A great silence followed that fogger.

In 1962, marine biologist Rachel Carson’s bestseller “Silent Spring,” an indictment of DDT, appeared and led to a ban on the pesticide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1972.

As an adult, I watched a growing range of chemicals being linked to rises in cancer, nerve damage, obesity, endocrine disruption, death and deformities (frogs, alligators) and die-offs (birds, pollinators, fish) in the natural world. As a journalist, I sometimes wrote about the effects of man-made chemicals and, in particular, the consequences of pesticide and herbicide use.

Now Minnesota stands on the cusp of passing some of the most enlightened legislation in the nation to protect human and ecosystem health. With a handful of bills slated to be heard in the Legislature, we may have reached a critical mass of scientific documentation, legislative smarts and public understanding that could result in a state that is cleaner, safer and healthier for people, pets and vital pollinators.

The pending bills give communities local control over pesticides (HF 718), set rules for pesticide-coated corn and soy seed to avoid contamination (HF 766), prohibit neonicotinoid systemic pesticides (aka “neonics”) and chlorpyrifos (insecticide) in protected wildlife areas (HF 1210), impose a statewide ban on chlorpyrifos (HF 670) and increase pollinator-lethal insecticide fees with revenue allocated to pollinator research (HF 408).

Decades of study by institutions including Cornell University, Harvard University’s School of Public Health, Rutgers University and consumer protection groups show correlations between pesticides and the current insect apocalypse, rises in cancer and pet illness and deaths, and damage to child development.

DDT may have gone, but neonics are far more powerful. Results of a study by the University Koblenz and Landau in Germany, published in Science magazine on April 1, finds “that the toxicity of applied insecticides to aquatic invertebrates and pollinators has increased considerably.”

“These are extremely challenging and complex issues, and Minnesota is offering a number of innovative ways to respond to much-needed protections,” says Aimée Code, pesticide program director of the nonprofit Xerces Society based in Portland, Ore. “Across the country people are seeking answers, and states are looking at what is happening in Minnesota. Minnesota has been creative in seeking solutions through such actions as the Lawns to Legumes program and efforts to label pesticides, to ratchet down pesticide use, to create more bio-sensitive and sustainable agriculture and to give farmers incentives to not use treated seed.

“Currently, [people] think pest control and pesticide are synonymous, and that pesticides should be a first line of defense, ” Code explained. “The vast majority of our invertebrates are foundational species that offer ecological services — everything from pest management, to help filtering our water, to pollination. Chemical pesticides have become ingrained in our agriculture and homeowner practices. We have to think of smarter solutions.”

As farmers, consumers and legislative bodies continue to get smarter about solutions, neonics were banned for outdoor use in the European Union in 2018. Legislation pending in New York, California, Alaska and Massachusetts would do likewise.

Mac Ehrhardt is co-owner of the Albert Lea Seed House, a third generation family firm that put certified organic seed on its menu in 1998. The latter is a small but increasing percentage of Seed House business, he says. And while a majority of farmers purchase seed there based on costs, others recognize the concerns around chemicals.

What is also new on the issue, Ehrhardt says, is “we are getting legislators brave enough to stand up and do what is right even though they know a percentage of constituents will be angry with them.”

The Minnesota bills reflect an understanding that what affects insects, plants and animals affects humans as well.

“The evidence is very clear that neonics can be found throughout the environment now in places they are not expected to be,” says Jonathan Lundgren, an agroecologist, director of ECDYSIS Foundation, CEO of Blue Dasher Farm in Estilline, S.D., and former U.S. Department of Agriculture award-winning entomologist. Lundgren’s recent study of white tail deer spleens demonstrates that the world’s most widely used pesticide class today has negative effects on mammals.

“This has implications for our ecosystem that farmers and legislators alike can appreciate. The response from the ag chem industry is to say their products are safe and helping farmers, but the data really doesn’t support that. Neonics and other chemicals simply aren’t necessary. Farmers are developing systems that make the pesticide question kind of moot. Regenerative farming is proving to be more resilient and more profitable. The scientists got it, and farmers are getting it.”

Karin Winegar, of St. Paul, is a freelance journalist and former Star Tribune staff writer.

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Cornell University

Cornell Chronicle

Graduate student Ricardo Perez-Alvarez checks cabbage plants for insect pests.

Landscapes surrounding farms affect insect pests, crop yields, study finds

A cabbage looper, a pest of cabbage plants.

Landscapes that surround agricultural lands strongly influence the dynamics of beneficial insects as well as insect pests on farms, which in turn affect crop yields.

Such were the findings of a Cornell study of New York farmlands, published April 4 in the journal Ecological Applications.

Many previous studies on how landscapes surrounding farms affect insect pests and crops have only considered one pest at a time. This study examined the effects of three cabbage pests – aphids, flea beetles and leaf-feeding caterpillars – wasps that feed on caterpillars, and crop yields. It also looked at three different types of landscapes that surround farms: agricultural lands, meadows and semi-natural areas (including shrublands, types of forests and woody wetlands).

“By considering multiple insect pests, [our study design] represented a more realistic situation for what farmers experience, we were able to disentangle some of these complexities,” said Ricardo Perez-Alvarez, the paper’s first author and a graduate student in the lab of Katja Poveda, professor of entomology and the paper’s senior author.

In the study, the researchers set up 22 experimental cabbage plots on farms across the Finger Lakes region of New York from June to September in 2014 and 2015. The details and management of each plot were the same, with no pesticides or insecticides used. Throughout the growing season, the researchers measured plant damage by each pest, density and abundance of parasitoid wasps, and they recorded crop yields at the end of each season.

The researchers expected that landscapes with a higher proportion of cropland and lower habitat diversity would lead to more specialist pests and a reduction in crop yields, according to the paper. Instead, they found that yields and the number of pests were best explained by the presence of non-crop habitats, such as meadows, in the landscape.

Specifically, when the proportion of meadows surrounding farms was high, the amount of infestation from cabbage leaf-eating caterpillars was lower, likely because of increased parasitism from wasps. On the other hand, these same plots experienced more infestation from flea beetles and aphids. The findings suggest that while some beneficial insects increased as a result of the non-crop habitats, so did the number of certain pests.

By considering the collective effect of multiple pest species on crop yields, management schemes need to consider joint effects of pest species to be effective, Perez-Alvarez said. Still, more detailed study is needed to better understand these dynamics. “There were some landscapes where the presence of meadows can have an overall positive effect from crop production, but in other areas, meadows can have a negative effect,” he said, perhaps due to the characteristics of the insect fauna that live in those areas.

“There is not a universal solution,” he added.

Brian Nault, professor of entomology, is a co-author of the study.

The study was supported by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture via the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station.


Story Contacts

Krishna Ramanujan

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Integrated Pest Management USDA Agricultural Research Service

Why integrated pest management is sustainable agriculture

For farmers, IPM is good business. They don’t want to pay for pesticide applications if they won’t do any good.

 

John Hart | Nov 21, 2017

After World War II and prior to the advent of integrated pest management that began in the 1970s and increased in the 1980s, farmers may have known what pests they had but they didn’t know the populations numbers, they didn’t know the stage of development and they didn’t understand how weather impacts pest populations.

As David Epstein, senior entomologist for USDA’s Office of Pest Management, puts it, prior to IPM, most farmers would use a spray program where their dealer brought them a list and said spray this pesticide at this time of year throughout the year. “IPM took us away from that,” Epstein said at a sustainability symposium sponsored by the Biological Products Industry Association in Orlando in October.

 In IPM, everything is based on monitoring. IPM is about knowing the pests, knowing the plant and knowing the barriers of control. “It also takes into account that farmers are running a business so there are socio and economic conditions that fit into this problem,” Epstein says.

For farmers, IPM is good business. They don’t want to pay for pesticide applications if they won’t do any good. But if a pest is there that will nibble away the bottom line, it certainly is a must to have choices to control those pests and that includes pesticides.

IPM acknowledges that famers use pesticides. Conventional producers use them and organic farmers use them as well, turning to products that are not synthetic but naturally sourced. “Farms are not natural ecosystems, and pests are going to have to be managed. We need pesticides to do it,” Epstein said.

The USDA entomologist laments that IPM is not lauded far and wide as sustainable agriculture. He says the systems-thinking approach that IPM promotes is certainly sustainable agriculture. IPM is all about the informed, wise use of crop protection products. It takes into account the financial, physical and human aspects of farm operations.

“The major consideration in sustainability is keeping the farmer in business to provide a safe and affordable supply of food,” Epstein said.

Scouting and the use of such tools as sweep nets isn’t really that fun, but it is a practice entomologists emphasize as key for integrated pest management. You need to know what pests you have and control them accordingly.

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SW FarmPress

In new study, researchers say agriculture can be important to honey bees


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Honey Bee
A new study indicates that agricutural production may be beneficial to honey bees, but care must be taken with pesticide selection and application.
Scientists at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture published results of the study in a recent issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, titled the “Agricultural Landscape and Pesticide Effects on Honey Bee Biological Traits.” While not all news is good news according to the results of the study, some interesting discoveries were made.

Logan Hawkes 3 | May 09, 2017

It’s no secret that pesticides can cause harm to honey bee colonies, but a new study from University of Tennessee researchers has found that  under the right conditions, the overall health of honey bee colonies can benefit as a result of row crop production.

The number of honey bee colonies in the United States has declined by 45 percent over the past 60 years, not just because of agrochemical exposure, but also a result of various pathogens, parasites, and other factors such as changing farm demographics. The new study illustrates that while some aspects of farming represent a high risk for honey bee colonies, a determination that row crop farming can contribute to the well being of bee colonies is encouraging news to the agricultural industry.

Scientists at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture published results of the study in a recent issue of the Journal of Economic Entomology, titled the “Agricultural

Landscape and Pesticide Effects on Honey Bee Biological Traits.” While not all news is good news according to the results of the study, some interesting discoveries were made.With little argument, results of the study concede that pesticides are thought to be a principal factor causing honey bee decline, in addition to damages caused by the parasitic varroa mite. Many insecticides are toxic to bees, even at very low doses, and they may cause significant disorders at sub lethal doses in colony dynamics and the division of labor of honey bee colonies by affecting honey bee behavior, orientation, communication, and return flights.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

In addition to harmful pesticides, however, the study indicates some environmental factors play a central role in colony losses, such as habitat loss or changes, poor nutrition, inadequate foraging flora, and the transportation stress induced by the excessive “transhumance of honey bee colonies to provide pollination services.”

While pesticides are necessary for pest control in agriculture, increasing crop production and providing worldwide food security, care must be taken by farmers to minimize that damage through adequate control measures, a practice that row crop farmers have been making an effort to adopt in recent times. Those efforts are helping to reduce the negative aspect of pesticides, more precisely neonicotinoid class pesticides, and their capability of suppressing honey bee immune-competence that might lead to an impaired disease resistance capacity.

For the purposes of this study, a number of locations were utilized to test the effects of landscapes (urban versus agricultural) on colony health. Researchers measured three key elements of honey bee colony health—colony weight, brood production, and colony thermoregulation—in different landscapes and with different risks of pesticide exposure. Researchers then evaluated honey bee colony performance in replicated exposure groups in an effort to tease apart the relative effects of pesticides and environment on colony health.

The results indicated a number of factors. While additional external elements influenced colony weight and brood production, it was determined that hives in agricultural areas did exhibit better colony weight as a result of better forage opportunities. The cause of death among colonies varied depending on location, but it should be noted that pesticide exposure was accountable for pollinator death in colonies located near high production agricultural areas.

NUTRITION FACTOR

In conclusion, the study indicated honey bee colonies foraging in moderate and high production areas where row crop farming was practiced were clearly able to grow faster and to a larger size as a result of better access to sustainable nutrition sources than bees foraging in more urbanized areas. Better nutrition sources and nectar yields in farm areas helped to develop greater population size, which in turn enabled better colony thermoregulation.

The study further concludes that while non-farm areas may provide a less-toxic environment for honey bees, they may not provide sustainable foraging resources, leading to colony starvation. Thus, a trade-off appears to exist between increased food resources and the potential for exposure to pesticides in agricultural systems. Careful selection of pesticides and conscientious application of bee-toxic pesticides, however, should greatly reduce the risk of honey bee exposure and promote healthier hives under the right conditions.

Access the full article here.

( https://academic.oup.com/jee/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/jee/tox111/3231574/Agricultural-Landscape-and-Pesticide-Effects-on?redirectedFrom=fulltext )

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The  New York Times

Nov. 18 2014

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/opinion/a-sustainable-solution-for-the-corn-belt.html?_r=0

By  Mark Bittman

 

It’s hard to imagine maintaining the current food system without Iowa. Yet that state — symbolic of both the unparalleled richness of our continent’s agricultural potential and the mess we’ve made of it — has undergone a transformation almost as profound as the land on which cities have been built. A state that was once 85 percent prairie is now 85 percent cultivated, most of that in row crops of corn and soybeans. And that isn’t sustainable, no matter how you define that divisive word.

It’s easy enough to argue that one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world could be better used than to cover it with just two crops — the two crops that contribute most to the sad state of our dietary affairs, and that are used primarily for animal food, junk food and thermodynamically questionable biofuels. Anything that further entrenches that system — propped up by generous public support — should be questioned. On the other hand, if there are ways to make that core of industrial agriculture less destructive of land and water, that is at least moving in the right direction.

For now, many Midwestern farmers believe they are maximizing income by growing row crops in what is best called industrial fashion. (Many prefer the word “conventional,” but as common as it is we do not want chemical farming to be the convention.) This near monoculture, for the most part, fails to replenish soil, poisons water, increases flooding and erosion, spills carbon, robs indigenous species of habitat and uses fossil fuel resources at unnecessarily high rates. Despite this, for the last several years the economic pressure has been on farmers to plant more and more, even in marginally productive areas, land that requires more work and greater applications of chemicals for fewer benefits.

Incredibly, there is a scientifically informed, direct and effective planting tactic that can mitigate much of this. Called STRIPS, for (ready?) “science-based trials of row crops integrated with prairie strips,” it means just that: Take around 10 percent of your farmland (in most cases, the least productive part), and replant it with a mix of indigenous prairie plants. Then sit back and watch the results, which are, according to researchers and even some farmers, spectacular.

Lisa Schulte Moore, a researcher at Iowa State University, has been working on the principles behind STRIPS for more than 10 years. (In 2003, she worked with Matt Liebman and Matt Helmers, two other pioneers in making contemporary American agriculture more sensible; I wrote about Liebman’s work a couple of years ago.) “It’s well-known that perennials provide a broader sweep of ecological function than annuals,” she told me last week, “so our hypothesis was that if you put a little bit of perennials — a little bit of prairie — in the right place, you get these disproportionate benefits. That is, without taking much land out of production, you get a lot of environmental benefit.”

The research has produced impressive numbers: If you convert 10 percent of a field of row crops to prairie, soil loss can be reduced by up to 95 percent, nutrient loss by 80 to 90 percent, and water runoff by 44 percent. Biodiversity nearly quadruples, and some of those species are pollinators, predators of pests, or both. And, unlike some ecological management techniques, the process is not expensive.

In general, reports Moore, seven years into this process, “Though science is messy, it’s amazing how clear our results are.”

By the end of the year, there will be 17 commercial farms integrating prairie strips in Iowa and Missouri — a mere 1,000 acres or so (the corn/soy belt is about 170 million acres this year), although the program is increasing rapidly. And because it’s difficult to find fault with it, the approach has the potential to unite farmers and environmentalists in a way that few other things do.

Among the first adopters was Seth Watkins, a “conventional” (his description) farmer of corn and soybeans who uses his crops to feed his cattle near the southwestern Iowa town of Clarinda. His explanation of the system is eye-opening: “There’s a lot of land we’ve been farming that was never intended to be farmed, and those areas of poor production are perfect for prairie strips. You do that, and it doesn’t reduce overall production, and it increases environmental benefit.” (He also loves the way it looks.) Watkins claims that his profit has gone up “because there’s land where you can lose a dollar an acre on corn.”

In recent years, many Iowa farmers have believed that if they weren’t 100 percent “in” corn, they weren’t doing a good job. Because of the pressure to plant, many of them have expanded their cultivated areas beyond where it makes sense, creating erosion and runoff problems. Iowa is among the major contributors to the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone,” a direct result of fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi water system, and half of Iowa’s topsoil has been lost.

Some common solutions to these problems — like terracing, or simply patching areas where runoff is extreme — are expensive and/or temporary. But the STRIPS experiment seems to demonstrate that being 90 percent “in” results in unheard of environmental benefits with little or no sacrifice to the bottom line. And, says Watkins, “I’ve felt for years that environmentalists and farmers should be friends, and we are starting to see that in Iowa.”

Prairie strips are both cheap and permanent, and they come with little opportunity cost. There does not seem to be an argument against them, other than that they make an imperfect — or even destructive — system less so. But while we’re figuring out a better way to do things on a big scale in the Midwest, this is a sensible interim step.

 

 

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