This article is part of our special report Sustainable farming ambitions: between the CAP and the Green Deal.
The EU is gearing up to slash the use and risk of pesticides in half by 2030, on the back of an increasing body of research pointing to their harmful effects. In Poland, the biggest eastern member state, alternatives are currently expensive and poorly promoted. EURACTIV Poland reports.
The EU’s flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy, aims to improve the quality and safety of food produced in the bloc while simultaneously reducing the sector’s negative environmental impact.
Within this mandate, the strategy sets out a goal for the use and risk of pesticides to be slashed in half by 2030.
Polish farmers have a range of biological and agrotechnical protective measures at their disposal and are Increasingly engaging in integrated pest management (IPM).
This management system is based on the use of all protection methods while giving priority to non-chemical agents, so as to minimise the risk to humans, animals and the environment.
This involves various methods, such as installing pheromone traps to attract beneficial insects feeding on fruit trees, or the use of predatory organisms who feed on those that are harmful to crops.
For example, certain species of insect pests, like hymenoptera insects, whose larvae are parasites of other insects, are effective in combatting the larvae of the night butterfly that harms tobacco crops.
However, biological agents in Poland account for only 2% of all registered plant protection products, compared to 4% globally, according to a letter written in December by a team of scientists from Polish universities and research and industry institutes.
The letter calls on the minister of agriculture Grzegorz Puda, and the EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who is also Polish, to take action on this front.
“State interference is necessary, and thus the creation of specific policy instruments that will help change the behaviour of farmers, leading to a reduction in the use of pesticides,” Małgorzata Bzowska-Bakalarz from the University of Life Sciences in Lublin argued in the letter.
Not enough emphasis on IPM
IPM principles to keep the use of pesticides down at levels that are economically and ecologically justified are laid down in the 2014 review of the directive on sustainable use of pesticides.
However, according to a recent report from the European Court of Auditors, the Commission seems to have failed so far to either adequately enforce the implementation of such rules by EU member states or to adequately incentivise them, for example, as by mobilising the use of the Common Agricultural Policy’s (CAP) direct payments.
The analysts concluded that this could mainly be put down to a lack of precise data provided by EU countries. They also pointed out that the countries do not integrate the requirement to use integrated pest management into national law.
Pesticides sales growing in Poland
Meanwhile, the use of chemical plant protection products in Poland has actually grown in the previous decade.
Although Poland is not at the forefront of pesticide users in the EU, according to data from Eurostat, Poland’s 2016 pesticide sales were 12.3% higher than in 2011, despite the fact that the area of planted crops increased by only 1.5% between 2011-2017.
In Poland, the average consumption of the active substance is 2.5 kilograms per hectare per year, compared to the EU average of 3.5 kg.
The problem is that the western part of the EU (such as the Netherlands, which consumes the most pesticides per hectare) may reduce its consumption faster than Poland, according to Marek Mrówczyński, director of the Institute of plant protection at the National research institute in Poznań.
Speaking at a recent Polish Agricultural Congress meeting, he said the barrier to the use of biological agents is their price, which is 3-5 times higher per hectare than the use of chemicals.
In Poland, biological agents are most often used in greenhouse crops, where it is possible to regulate the conditions prevailing undercover. This is not the case for open crops.
Therefore, without funds from the EU’s farming subsidy programme (the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP) for 2021-2027, changes in Polish agriculture will not be possible, he concluded.
The objectives of the new CAP were discussed at the end of February in the Polish Sejm at a meeting of the agriculture committee, where officials pointed out that these goals would be difficult to reconcile.
“The European Commission wants to increase farmers’ incomes, but at the same time reduce the use of artificial fertilizers and plant protection products, which may lead to a reduction in agricultural production,” said Dorota Niedziela from the Civic Platform.
Likewise, Mirosław Maliszewski from the Polish People’s Party pointed out that non-chemical plant protection products or new cultivation technologies are still insufficiently available in Poland, stressing also that they come with a price tag.
However, Ryszard Bartosik, deputy minister of agriculture, offered assurances that the changes would be introduced gradually.
“When it comes to fertilisers and plant protection products, the point is not that we will not prohibit the use of such substances or such a number of fertilisers by some day-to-day decisions. Instead, we will persuade farmers to use the most environmentally friendly means, and to use fertilisers in a precise way,” he said.
He also promised that the Polish government would allocate funds obtained from the EU budget for this purpose.
[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]