Insect nightmare about green deserts

ResearchBlogging.org Yesterday I wrote a post about neonicotinoids and a friend suggested me a link reporting that Michael Gray and his colleagues at the University of Illinois conducted a survey of corn and soybean pests in Illinois from late July to early August in 2011, and found densities of some key insect pests to be at zero or near zero in many counties. “I’ve never seen anything like it in 22 years of doing this kind of research,” Gray said. “From an insect diversity perspective, it’s a biological desert in many of those fields.”

This is the result of a common practice of broadcasting mixes of insecticide and fungicide on corn and soybean fields and most growers are not likely to be alarmed by the low number of bugs, but will instead see it as proof that their strategy works. In order to be sure of these effects, furthermore the spray not only when insects are present at levels that are likely to affect yield but as soon as they meet a bug in their field.

As a whole I think that we have clear evidence about the negative attributes and outcomes of pesticides and we can have an accurate perception of the hazard they represent. At present, we have threfore to discuss these negative effects with farmers in order to find solution that need to have for them the same benefits of using pesticides, in order to have a more balanced view.  Indeed the use of pesticides has clear advantages for farmers since….

This means that  we have to reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, departing from the current model where farmers receive income support for up-keep of their land into a model where farmers receive funding to provide public benefits, which includes paying farmers to use sustainable agricultural practices based on prevention first, also called integrated production, whereby the more farmers provide environmental and health services, the greater the public funding they receive.

We should start by encouraging more mixed agriculture, better agricultural practices, crop rotation and pastoral grassland and lower field size. Even more so, we should encourage the development of practices such as bigger field margins and the re-establishment of hedgerows.

For instance a process of “restored to health” have been observed in the Italian bees after a spring’s neonicotinoid-free maize sowing. Francesco Panella, President of the Italian Association of Beekepers, says: “On behalf of beegrowers working in a countryside dominated by maize crops, I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture to confirm the great news, for once: thanks to the suspension of the bee-killing seed coating, the hives in the Po Valley are flourishing again. We cannot underestimate that there are over one million hectares of maize crops, predominantly in Northern Italy, which means one crop out of every seven which are grown every year in our country. This year’s magnificent and unusual spring growth of bee colonies means a very good production of acacia honey in Northern Italy. We are now anxious to ensure that the temporary ban of neonicotinoid seed coating becomes definitive. Over the past few days we got news of devastating cases of bee mortality in some citrus groves of Southern Italy, which had been sprayed with one neonicotinoid.” Interestingly, despite the ban of neonicotinoids in Italy there is not any invasion of Diabrotica virgifera due to a strategy based on crop rotation.

Chemistry is not our unique choice, as suggested by the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) where different scientists work to protect community and environmental health and inspire the use of ecologically sound solutions to reduce the use of pesticides!!!

Cooper J, Dobson H (2007). The benefits of pesticides to mankind and the environment. Crop Protection, 26, 1337-1348

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