What are the solutions for reducing the use of synthetic pesticides in Europe by at least 50%? This question was central to the scientific conference organized by INRAE under the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union last June. Journalist Pierre Girard used it as the starting point for a trip across Europe to meet scientists working on this issue and report on the solutions that are emerging. The first stage of this "Field trip" was in Dijon, where the participants of the conference visited an innovative INRAE infrastructure which studies how to do without synthetic pesticides: CA-SYS.
“How can research help achieve the pesticide-reduction objectives in the European Green Deal?” The conference is a chance to take stock of current scientific production and the new frontiers of science that research is now exploring to move away from our chemical pesticide-dependent system.
The transition of agricultural systems towards agroecological models requires a paradigm shift
Most solutions available today using synthetic pesticides are curative, immediate, local and often individual. Doing without pesticides requires employing preventive solutions that mainly seek to lower pest pressure by growing certain crops together (species and varieties) and managing crop protection over time and space. This transition requires a paradigm shift.
Agroecology research and pioneering knowledge on ecosystem services are inspiring new models and support the agroecological and food transitions. The resistance and durability of varieties, farming equipment using satellite data, and robotics and digital technologies are additional paths that are being explored. INRAE also wholeheartedly embraces open innovation and citizen science, and the institute provides expertise and support for public policies.
In 2022, INRAE and partner organisations are carrying out more than a dozen projects to support this transition:
At the European level (eight H2020 projects): DiverIMPACTS, on the diversification of cropping systems; IWMPRAISE, on integrated weed management; OPTIMA, on integrated vineyard and orchard management; SuperPests, on using data and digital technologies in integrated pest management; EMPHASIS, a high throughput phenotyping platform; VIRTIGATION, on integrated management strategies for viruses, IPM Decisions, a decision support tool platform for integrated pest management stakeholders; and NEFERTITI, a highly connected network of pilot and demonstration farms at the EU level.
At the French level, as part of the “Growing and Protecting Crops Differently” priority research programme (six PPR CPA projects): CAP ZERO PHYTO, on the adaptation of the concept of ecological immunology to crop protection; DEEP IMPACT, on plant-microbiota interactions that support plants’ natural defences against pests and diseases; SUCSEED, for alternative solutions to pesticides on seeds; MoBiDiv, to mobilise intra- and interspecific diversity; SPECIFICS, for the design of pesticide-free cropping systems that include grain legumes; and Be-creative, on the co-design of pesticide-free territories.
INRAE conducts research on soil and water contaminated by pesticides and their transformation products, as well as the toxicity of these products (often found in mixtures) on biodiversity and biological functions. The concept of eco-exposome, which looks at all of the physical, chemical, biological and other effects over the lifetime of an organism, is considered. Our scientists are also exploring environmental remediation techniques, especially using plants and nature-based decontamination solutions.
At the European level, INRAE participates in the H2020 Aristo project to assess the toxicity of pesticides on soil microorganisms.
Surveillance and prevention make it possible to act early and reduce the need for plant protection products. Given the surge in health crises, we also need to be able to detect new, emerging diseases to prevent and contain them. Epidemiological surveillance of certain listed diseases is governed by French regulations as well as a European regulation that requires member states to carry out surveillance on both plants and animals. Surveillance and research stakeholders work closely together to better meet the objectives.
At the European level, INRAE is participating in four H2020 projects: POnTE (Xylella fastidiosa and Hymenoscyphus fraxineus), HOMED (Holistic management of emerging forest pests and diseases), RUSTWATCH (an early-warning system for wheat rust diseases), and IPM-Popillia (control of Japanese beetle invasions, Popillia japonica).
INRAE is coordinating two projects as part of the French PPR CPA: BEYOND, epidemiological survellance and prevention based on field and remote observations, and PheroSensor, early detection of pests using olfactory sensors with pheromone receptors.