Cultivating Wider Adoption of Biopesticides: Incentivising Change


Cultivating Wider Adoption of Biopesticides: Incentivising Change

This third and final blog post of the series explores how incentives can encourage the use of biopesticides and draws on examples from Spain and the UK. It is one of three mechanisms, IBMA Executive Director, Jennifer Lewis, recognised in her presentation at Fera's webinar titled ‘Cultivating wider adoption of biopesticides’. The first mechanism, enabling policies, was explored in our first blog, while the second focused on knowledge exchange.

The challenge

Change is often met with resistance and it’s a natural and often understandable reaction.

Over decades conventional methods of pest control have proven to be reliable, and consistently prevented crops from damage from pests and disease. Farmers have grown accustomed to the convenience and immediate impact of chemical solutions, and their use has become deeply ingrained in farming practices. The prospect of adopting biological controls introduces an element of uncertainty and there’s a learning curve, as these methods often require different strategies and management approaches. It can be considered both a financial and emotional risk when a year’s work is invested in just one harvest.

However, conventional pesticides have limitations – pests and disease can develop resistance to active ingredients, for example - and a few, are known to have negative effects on the environment.  For these reasons, many governments are seeking to encourage the adoption of alternative strategies and techniques, including the use of biologicals. EU member states, for example, are required to develop National Action Plans (NAPs) outlining how they will achieve the sustainable use of pesticides within their territories. That includes using integrated approaches to pest control that reduce reliance on chemical controls by combining biological, cultural and physical approaches, with chemical methods.  

In order to facilitate the shift, it is crucial to support farmers, both in terms of education and financial assistance. Demonstrating the long-term benefits of adopting biological controls, such as improved soil health and reduced environmental impact can help overcome the initial hurdles associated with change but government incentives and industry-wide initiatives that encourage sustainable practices can play a pivotal role in fostering a more widespread and successful adoption of biological controls too. In addition, financial incentives recognise the perceived risk that farmers take when they adopt such as approach, as well as mitigating some, or all, of the costs associated with the new strategy.

Driving change with incentives in Spain – A Success Story

In Spain's Albufera, located in the Valencia and Delta region, there’s 16,000ha of rice production surrounding a 3,000ha freshwater lagoon. It’s also a Natural Park, a Special Protection Area for Birds and Nature, and a Natura 2000 Site of Community Importance. It’s an important place both for the community and for biodiversity with many overwintering migratory birds, for example.

Back in the 1980’s concerns were growing about the increasingly widespread use of insecticides to control rice stem borer and their impacts on the park’s aquatic ecosystems.

However, a programme which included financial support and collaboration by local government, manufacturers and farmers drove a substantial shift towards the use of sex pheromones to control the rice borers, with the shared goals of reducing reliance on conventional insecticides and protecting the natural habitat.

The outcomes were impressive. Insecticide use drastically decreased, while the number of nesting aquatic birds increased tenfold. This achievement was coupled with the retention of farmers' profitability, thanks in part to initial subsidies that progressively reduced over time. It’s a great example of how collective efforts and incentivisation can lead to a sustainable shift in agricultural practices while safeguarding ecosystems.

Incentives underpin strategic shift in UK policy 

Incentives are also being deployed by the government here in the UK. Under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), Defra is recognising the cost and risk of implementing change by rewarding farmers who seek to protect crops through integrated pest management (IPM) and eliminate insecticides.

Under the scheme, assessing IPM and producing a plan is worth £989/year. Growing flower-rich grass margins, blocks or in-field strips renowned as habits for pollinators, and just as importantly, pest predators, is incentivised with financial compensation of £673/ha/yr.  Trap crops which lure pests away from cash crops and inter-cropping which dilute the food sources for pests are both worth £55/ha/yr.

Together these incentives show support for biological approaches to controlling pests and importantly, they encourage a change of mindset and a strategic shift away from prophylactic use of chemistry.  

As we look to future direction of crop protection, the SFI is a clear indication of the government’s commitment to reducing conventional crop protection. As well as supporting growers, these incentives give confidence to R&D organisations developing specific biological controls for target pest species.  

When these incentives are put in a broader context – the investment in peer-to-peer learning, educational resources, like IPM Decisions and IPM Works as well as research projects and regulatory capacity, it is apparent that biocontrol is likely to have a more significant role in the future of crop protection.

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