Pesticide-free zones, implemented in France since 1 January 2020, have angered winegrowers, who are losing a great deal of surface area, while civil society still considers them insufficient. EURACTIV France reports.
The idea of so-called pesticide-free zones (or non-treatment zones) has gradually emerged as a solution to protect against the harmful effects of plant protection products. But in practice, their implementation does not appear to satisfy farmers or local residents.
Under unprecedented societal pressure and a growing number of municipal by-laws prohibiting the application of pesticides near homes, the government has come up with a concept of pesticides-free zones. These would define safe spaces between agricultural areas and homes.
A public consultation was conducted in the autumn of 2019 and the order was published on 29 December. The minimum distances for non-treatment zones were set at five metres for so-called low crops such as vegetables and cereals and ten metres for high crops, which include fruit trees or vines.
These are “advancements”, according to Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume, because such limitations are only present in “very few countries in Europe” (such as Slovenia, Italy or a few German Länder).
The decision, however, still remains very far from the demands of certain environmentalist associations, which demanded a distance of 150 meters to avoid any risk of propagation in case of pesticides having been sprayed.
“The chosen so-called safety distances are inconsistent,” reacted François Veillerette, director of Générations futures. For the French Green party, Europe Ecologie les Verts (EELV), the government’s decree is also inadequate.
“EELV will continue to support the mayors who issue decrees banning the use of pesticides in the vicinity of residential buildings”, the Green party said.
If the effectiveness of these pesticide-free zones is questioned, the impact on arable land will not be negligible.
“By establishing, in certain situations, incompressible safety distances, whatever the practices and protection measures, the government is giving way to ideology and abandoning many farmers without offering any solutions. Where is the logic?” complained the main agricultural union, the FNSEA.
No forms of pesticide treatment, except for so-called ‘biocontrol’ methods, can be applied in non-treatment zones, meaning that farmers who use phytosanitary products will face the same constraints, regardless of whether they use such products intensively or just occasionally.
Also, a source of criticism is the fact that no scheme has been introduced to ensure compensation for agricultural land that can no longer be farmed.
“And what about the fact that no one mentions compensation for the losses that farmers will necessarily incur by losing the surface area from their farms?” said the national federation of farmers’ associations (FNSEA). The union is expected to discuss possible blockades during January.
The French vineyard to take the hit first
If these zones concern all agricultural land, the French vineyard will be the first to suffer. The proximity of the vineyards to habitations in many wine regions, such as Champagne, Bourgogne or Alsace, could expose French winegrowers to significant losses of surface area.
According to estimates by the Alsace Winegrowers’ Association, 300 hectares of vines would be directly affected by these new zones, which covers about 2% of the region’s vineyards.
In Champagne, about 1,000 hectares would be affected, which represents 3% of the vineyard area, in a region where land prices average €1 million per hectare.
And the vineyard area of Bourgueil in the Loire could lose 75 hectares, that is to say, 5% of its surface.
And the room for manoeuvre remains limited for France’s vineyards because the costs of occasional copper treatment to combat mildew in organic farming cannot always be covered. This is a problem, given that the biocontrol solutions, the only ones that remain outside the scope of the newly-implemented no-treatment zones (ZNT), have not yet been perfected.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]