There are some telltale signs that the EU clampdown on the use of pesticides is changing production patterns in the 27 member states.
EU farmers will have to manage without, or depend much less on, 44 pesticides banned in 2019 or 2020, or which are likely to be banned.
Eleven pesticides are scheduled to go through their periodic review, with deadlines this year for the submission of applications for renewal.
Up to now, the highest-profile pesticide to go, from the point of view of Irish farmers, is chlorothalonil.
The loss of this fungicide, from May 20, poses a significant threat to short-term winter wheat and barley production in Ireland, according to Teagasc, Oak Park, researcher Steven Kildea.
Farmers are advised to minimise the impact of not using chlorothalonil by carefully choosing which varieties to grow, and how to manage the crop.
However, with different pressures every season on the crops, depending on the weather, it may be easier to avoid growing the crops most affected.
That is what has happened with sugar beet, which is no longer grown in Ireland (for reasons that have nothing to do with pesticides). Sugar-beet production in the EU is showing signs of crop reduction, due to the banning of pesticides.
The 2019/20 crop was reduced by 90,000 hectares, despite rising sugar prices (until sugar prices collapsed in March, due to Covid-19), and the crop is forecast to fall by another 30,000ha next autumn, to 1.614m hectares.
One of the main reasons EU farmers are cutting beet acreage is the increased crop-failure risk, due to neonicotinoid pesticides in beet-seed treatments having been banned.
As a result, EU sugar production in 2020/21 will show a third consecutive supply deficit in four years, since the end of the EU sugar-production quota regime.
Pest problems in sugar-beet production will likely lead to more farmers growing alternative spring crops, particularly maize.
French farmers are expected to plant more maize, as they reduce their sugar beet, but also their rapeseed acreage, due to the neonicotinoid ban (which is EU–wide, except for a maize and sunflower derogation in Romania).
Presumably, the EU is aware of such trends, and has a plan to do without large acreages of cereals, sugar beet, and rapeseed. The current EU wheat crop is down 700,000ha in one year alone, so there will be an estimated 11m tonnes less of wheat grain, compared to last year.
Cereals have fallen by 1m hectares in 10 years.
In fact, the EU must have a plan to do without much of its production, because the pace of pesticide bans is set to increase, and crop yields will fall concurrently, following the EU’s commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, having announced the European Green Deal.
Along with making the EU climate neutral by 2050, it is proposed to include in the green deal the Farm To Fork strategy, which is designed to reduce the use of pesticides, fertilisers, antibiotics, and intensive farming, while also improving animal welfare.
There will also be a five-year plan, with support for farmers to convert to organic farming, or to continue their existing organic farms.
Lower crop yield in the EU will be inevitable for the first time in decades. Up to now, new technology, such as pesticides (but not genetic modification, which is greatly restricted in the EU) maintained production, despite falling acreages.
The new Common Agricultural Policy, which is being prepared, will be tailored to support Farm To Fork implementation.
Meanwhile, the EU clampdown on pesticides has continued with proposals of non-renewal for bromoxynil and mancozeb.
A widely used herbicide approved for the EU, bromoxynil has been used for post-emergence control of annual broad-leaved weeds in cereals and other crops since 1963.
Mancozeb, one of the world’s most common pesticides, was approved in the EU in 2006 for wide use. A fungicide, it is commonly used for onions, potatoes, and flower bulbs.
It is recommended in Ireland for treatment of potato blight, the most destructive disease of potatoes worldwide.
It is the seventh most widely used pesticide in Spain. About 5.6m pounds of mancozeb are used annually in the US.
The EU clampdown on pesticides continues, despite, last week, the European Food Safety Authority publishing the results of its two pilot assessments on the risks posed to humans by residues of multiple pesticides in food.
The assessments of chronic effects on the thyroid system and acute effects on the nervous system were a multi-year collaboration between EFSA and the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment.
The conclusion for both assessments is that consumer risk from dietary cumulative exposure is, with varying degrees of certainty, below the threshold that triggers regulatory action for all the population groups covered.
Assessments of the effects of pesticides on other organs and body functions will follow in the coming years.
The EU regulation on maximum levels of pesticides in food (MRLs) stipulates that decisions should take into account cumulative effects of pesticides.
The regulation for the placing of pesticides on the market stipulates that pesticides should have no harmful effects on humans.
Meanwhile, the European Commission notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) recently of the draft regulations regarding non-renewals for bromoxynil and mancozeb.
The draft Commission Implementing Regulation provides that the approval of the two active substances not be renewed.
Existing authorisations of plant-protection products that contain mancozeb will be withdrawn and such products can then no longer be placed on the market. The non-renewal of the approval is based on a scientific assessment conducted by experts from the EU member states and from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
This decision only concerns the placing on the market of mancozeb and plant-protection products that contain it.
Following non-renewal of approval and the expiry of all grace periods for stocks of products that contain this substance, separate action will be taken to swiftly lower all existing residue limits (MRLs) in foods.
As soon as the lowered MRLs will be applicable (expected in the third quarter of 2020), foodstuffs with higher levels of mancozeb will become non-compliant and can no longer be placed on the EU market.
EU member states shall withdraw authorisations for plant-protection products that contain bromoxynil as an active substance. The non-renewal of approval is based on the first evaluation of the substance for use as a pesticide active substance in the EU.
This decision concerns the placing on the market of this substance and plant-protection products that contain it. Following non-approval and the expiry of all grace periods for stocks of products that contain this substance, separate action may be taken on MRLs and a separate notification will be made in accordance with SPS procedures.
The proposed date of adoption is the fourth quarter of 2020.