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welcome > Conferences > Working with Danish farmers for pesticide use reduction
Professor Dominique Belpomme
Working with Danish farmers for pesticide use reduction, Poul Henning Peterson, Danish Agricultural Advisory Service
> Powerpoint presentation

Poul’s presentation explained how Denmark is using its national agricultural advisory service to ensure that farmers can meet the requirements for pesticide reduction set out in the Bichel report. This report came out of the expert committee set up by the Danish government to examine various pesticide reduction scenarios and their possible consequences.

The advisory service (DAAS) works on two levels: there is a national centre and 60 independent local advisory centres. Poul, a senior adviser at the service’s national centre, told the conference how advice about pesticides is given and taken up by farmers. The service is independent of the chemical industry and the regulatory authorities. Farmers are both the owners and users of the service, which has a high share of the market. There are few private consultants in Denmark, and the chemical industry has no direct advisers.

There are between 1,600 and 2,000 on-farm trials each year, and results are published every December. DAAS has a long tradition of researching and encouraging reduced dosage application. Its current work on use reduction is partly funded by pesticide taxes, which were introduced in Denmark during 1996, at a rate of 54% value-added for insecticides and 33% for other pesticide groups.

In 1987, there was a re-evaluation of registered products under the first government Pesticide Action Plan, and almost 50% were withdrawn from the market or banned. The aim was for a 50% reduction in pesticide use by 1997: this was achieved for volume of active ingredients sold, but not for the treatment frequency index (TFI), defined as a measure of the average number of times a field can be treated at normal dose rates. In 1997, the Danish Government set up the Bichel committee of experts, which broadly concluded that pesticide use could be almost halved over a ten year period without economic effects on farmers or society. They recommended that the TFI could be cut from 2.5 to 1.7, averaged across all major field crops, through research and advice to farmers, and the consequences should be monitored. Three important challenges to achieving this level of reduction needed to be addressed:

  • Reduction goals must be visible on farm and crop level
  • Farmers need demonstration that reductions can be made without economic costs
  • The latest knowledge must be available to farmers

By 2000, a second Pesticide Action Plan was drawn up. This called for a TFI of less than 2.0 by the end of 2002, and then a new target set from 2003. An increase in organic production would run alongside a revision of the pesticide approval scheme and protection for certain areas by using buffer zones along water courses and other measures. Specific activities for DAAS under Plan II were: to use TFI as the main target for farmers to use; farm-level action plans; setting up experience sharing groups and farmer training; an early warning system for specific disease and pest control; demonstration of the plan in practice; non-chemical weed control; more use of computer-based decision support; and improved handling of pesticides on the farm. Action plans for individual farms were key for tighten the TFI regime even further. Individual plans were recorded on a database at the advisory service’s national centre, and by 2002, 3,180 farms were logged.

The main crops targeted for TFI reduction are wheat, barley, potato, sugar beet, field peas and oilseed rape. Winter wheat and spring barley together account for 56% of Denmark’s total TFI, taking the area cultivated into consideration. The crop level TFI is further divided into components for weed control, diseases, pests and, in some cases, growth regulators. Herbicides inputs make up at least 50% of the TFI in these two crops. Setting target TFIs for specific crops on each farm have proved very useful for farmers. For example, for weed control in winter wheat in 2000, among 1,399 farms, an average TFI of 1.03 was achieved against a target of 1.20. Poul said farmers were enthusiastic about reaching the goals for pesticide use voluntarily, and a TFI of less than 2.0 was realistic for farms using the advisory service.

He also stressed the role of “experience groups” in helping farmers meet these reduction targets. These are groups of 5-8 farmers who meet regularly in the field with a DAAS advisor to exchange experiences on reduction methods and results. There are now more than 95 of these groups, and they have demonstrated on their own farms that it is feasible to put the action plans into practice. One interesting observation is that larger farms, over 82ha, and those focussing on arable crop production ( rather than mixed arable and livestock) tend to have higher treatment frequencies. Another is that farmers found it easier to achieve the reduction target in winter wheat than in spring barley. Farmers’ actual TFIs did not match DAAS’ experimental results, suggesting that there could be a communication gap. Increasing problems with perennial weeds might be part of the explanation, or that farmers are concentrating their herbicide applications in spring cereals, in order to minimise efforts in other crops in the rotation. Nevertheless, once experience groups have achieved reductions in pesticide use, they tend to maintain this lowered level of usage.

DAAS work to support the Pesticide Action Plan does not concentrate solely on TFI targets. Farmers do not find mechanical weed control economically attractive in cereal crops but DAAS has shown that it is a feasible option in row crops of sugarbeet, maize and vegetables. They have managed to increase the web-based network of farmers using monitoring and forecasting tools for pests and diseases, although it is costly to make use of the full potential. However, with their on-line computer-aided decision making, they found that advisors use it a lot but farmers are hesitant. Another area for communication is on reducing point sources of pesticide contamination. Over 85% of farmers fill and clean spray equipment on hard surfaces, which carries a high risk of pesticide running into drains and water courses, and only 11% use specially-designed plant-covered areas (“biobeds”) to intercept this flow.

For the latest Pesticide Action Plan 2004-2009, a new TFI target of less than 1.7 for the pesticide plan covering 2004 to 2009 will mean a lot of hard work. Challenges are to improve timing of actions, especially on larger farms and for dairy, and to reach out to farmers who do not use the advisory service. Farmers also need the courage to question their usual practice and see whether reduced dosage can work on their farm or whether they really need to use growth regulators in cereals. The strengths of the Danish experience lie in:

  • farmers’ willingness to accept the reduction goals because they are realistic and based on documented analysis
  • farmers’ skills to implement the measures
  • the independent nature of advice
  • economic optimisation which respects the environment

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