Interviews
April 9, 2018
Crop protection in Europe – Q&A with ECPA’s Graeme Taylor
Graeme Taylor

Graeme Taylor

In the EU, agriculture is a source of income for 20% of the population and covers almost 175 million hectares of land. To ensure a safe and sustainable future for agriculture in the EU, farmers need access to effective methods of protecting their crops.

Graeme Taylor is the Director of Public Affairs at the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA). He spoke to Monsanto Europe team about ECPA’s goals and how they work with farmers to improve crop protection and food production in Europe.

How does the ECPA contribute to agriculture and help farmers in the EU?   

We represent the crop protection industry in Europe – 23 companies involved in the manufacture of pesticides.

Innovative and science-based, our solutions keep crops healthy and contribute to providing Europeans with a safe, affordable, healthy and sustainable food supply; and, answering one of the major societal challenges we face: just how do we feed 10 billion people on the planet by 2050. We promote modern farming practices and champion the use of crop protection technology important for the ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture.

Our awareness raising and stewardship activities further the safe and sustainable use of pesticides in Europe, encouraging management practices that safeguard harvests, human health and the environment.

There are a large number of mistruths spread about crop protection products – what are the most common misconceptions and what can be done to correct this?

There are so many misconceptions about crop protection products that it’s difficult to do them justice in just one short blog post. We are, in many ways our own harshest critics. We recognise that in today’s era of always-on communication it is not an option for us to sit in the corner and only come out when we are defending ourselves from attacks on our products. We have at times been invisible, and at time unnecessarily aggressive in our response. We have learned some valuable lessons.

The future of our sector relies on acceptance of the innovative products that we provide: products that will help address major societal challenges related to food production in the years to come. Communication is key to addressing this. People need to see that we are ready to address concerns about our products, that we are ready to talk about it and acknowledge them. Also, that we are not afraid to have an open and honest debate about our contribution; about the benefits that pesticides bring. As you can see from our #WithorWithout campaign we are ready and willing to engage.

I hope that as a result of people seeing a different conversation on pesticides, this will lead to an increase in people’s confidence and willingness to understand the science behind them. I hope that a scientist who has worked for industry can conduct research that is respected and accepted because of their experience, rather than be cut down because once 20 years ago they worked on a project for our industry. I have scientists in my family. My uncle is world-renowned in his field – not in my industry I hasten to add – but he is frankly offended that anyone might suggest he would compromise his principles, or indeed his life’s work, to draw a scientific conclusion he does not 100% believe in.

In short, we need to listen. We need to make science accessible (across all generations). We need to build trust (all of us) and confidence in our scientific institutions, and not shy away from the difficult conversations.

Why is it important for farmers to have a diverse range of tools in their crop protection toolbox? 

It’s absolutely vital for farmers to have access to the tools that they need to provide food for Europe’s 500 million consumers. Europe is incredibly diverse in terms of crops, the climate, different pests and diseases which prevail in different countries, regions or even regions of regions. This requires an equally diverse toolbox. You wouldn’t expect a car mechanic to be able to fix every problem a car has using just one hammer. The realities of farming are no different.

The other risk from an ever-depleting toolbox (15 years ago there were over 1,000 substances on the market, now there are around 450) is the development of resistance. Just like with human medicine, reliance on an ever-reducing number of solutions means that pests and diseases can quickly become resistant. The unpredictability of the current approval system means that fewer alternatives are being authorised – in the last nine years only four new substances have successfully found their way to market.

What trends will we see in crop protection practices over the next 5-10 years?

The potential in technology to contribute to address some of the major challenges we face in agriculture is incredibly exciting. Digital and precision farming can enable farmers to be more targeted in terms of how they address pests, identifying what diseases impact their crops, and allows farmers to use a smaller volume of pesticides through more precise application.

I’ve been on farms recently and its incredibly impressive to see how farmers are harnessing innovation through the use of, for example, drones which can pinpoint exact locations on the field where they are having problems. As a result, they are able to treat these areas very specifically. Embracing the use of these technologies is certainly one of the key ways that we’re going to be able to produce more with less in the future.

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