Food sustainability

Flowers, not pesticides

Flowers, not pesticides

Flowers, not pesticides. Saving honey bees and our ecosystem from toxic pesticides is possible thanks to wild flowers. Borders of spontaneous growths at the margin of cultivated fields can contain and control bugs and threats to cultures with no use of poisons.
Switzerland and Great Britain lead this eco path. 

Neonicotinoids and other pesticides, ecosystem and health

Scientific studies leave no doubt. Neonicotinoid pesticides destroy non-target insect populations – as well as other animal populations – such as migrating birds. (1) There is no way out for the ecosystem and the damages derived from exposition to pesticides are just as widely known. Glyphosate and Paraquat have already proved it, as well as DDT, Orange agent and Atrazine.
Bees survival is at stake, as shown in the more thorough on field research published by Science magazine in 2017. (2) If Albert Einstein is known as the author of the famous sentence about the end of human life within four days after the death of the last bee, the entomologist McGregor deserves recognition for a more accurate reference: one third of our food derives from the work of our pollinator insects. (3)
‘Neonicotinoid seed dressings have caused concern world-wide. We used large field experiments to assess the effects of neonicotinoid-treated crops on three bee species across three countries (Hungary, Germany, and the United Kingdom). Winter-sown oilseed rape was grown commercially with either seed coatings containing neonicotinoids (clothianidin or thiamethoxam) or no seed treatment (control). For honey bees, we found both negative (Hungary and United Kingdom) and positive (Germany) effects during crop flowering. In Hungary, negative effects on honey bees (associated with clothianidin) persisted over winter and resulted in smaller colonies in the following spring (24% declines). In wild bees (Bombus terrestris and Osmia bicornis), reproduction was negatively correlated with neonicotinoid residues. These findings point to neonicotinoids causing a reduced capacity of bee species to establish new populations in the year following exposure.’
(Country-specific effects of neonicotinoid pesticides on honey bees and wild bees, Abstract. Doi 10.1126/science.aaa1190)
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right of Food, Hilal Ever, published a report updated to year 2017 about the dangers of pesticides in relation to human rights, health and the planet. We witness catastrophic impacts on farmers, consumers, and the natural resources necessary to the production chain.
The French Institute for Agricultural Research, again in 2017, published on Nature a thorough study that shows how a significant reduction of the use of pesticides in agriculture is not only possible, but even economic and effective. On such basis the government-plan called Echophyto has defined a target for reduction of pesticides use of 50% by 2018.
Switzerland, Flowering Habitats
The concern about environmental damages caused by pesticides has been growing fast in recent years. And the experience in the fields has shown how the presence of wildflowers along field’s margins can reduce the migration of parasites (like syrphidae, wasps, coleoptera) in crops. With the extra advantage of bigger crops.
The ‘100 Wildflower strips for beneficials in practice’ program has been started in Switzerland in 2015, with the intent of ‘ecologic compensation’, in specific biodiversity-promotion areas. (4) Flowers like coriander, cornflower, buckwheat, poppy and dill were used on stripes of land on the margins of the cereal cultivations.
The experiments have shown the density of the black beetle, harmful to cereal leaves, in winter wheat cultivations, has diminished between 40% and 53%, with no use of pesticides.
The total reduction of damage to wheat plants amounted to -61%.

England, Assist

The research program Assist (Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems) started in England in the Fall 2017, for an initial period of 5 years and funds for a total of 11 millions BP. (5) As an initiative of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, in partnership with the British Geological Survey and the Rothamated research centre.
 The research objective is the development of practices of sustainable agriculture, soil protection in regard to extreme meteorological events and the reduction of the impact of agriculture on the environment. This experimentation got started in 15 farms in Central and Eastern England by sowing wild flowers on 6 mt. wide strips of land, with a distance of 100 meters between one another. This strips would go across and around the cultivated fields (with a 2% ratio of soil occupation).
Flowers used – daisy, red clover, Centaurea Comunis, wild carrot, and more – are all spared (guided by GPS) so that they can offer shelter to the insects in a continuative way. This way predators get busy attacking aphids and other parasites on the rotation cultivated fields (winter wheat, winter-sown oilseed rape, barley).
No doubt there is space to reduce the use of pesticides’ – declared Bill Parker, Research Director of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology to The Guardian. (6) But a major cultural change is needed in agriculture, where pesticides are being used thoughtlessly, independently whether they are needed or not. 
The majority of researches in agriculture, after all, ‘derive from the work of agronomists who are tied to companies that make money out of the sale of pesticides’, concludes Dr. Parker. Thus we have ‘a commercial pressure that tends to adopt a prophylactic (preventive) approach.’ 
With the additional risk – we would add – of the drive towards the Franken-seeds which are so functional to a renewed need for more pesticides.

Dario Dongo

Notes
(1) See https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-15446-x.epdf?author_access_token=60vOAq7fy3uoItENRL_WLtRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0PBos7CYdu4-aOFIzRGcQZYPhLZT79bnumB3G0JwKQDqd8sXxokuXX20RybZGim1WNULIibibaVSnXR6616CbBcOjFXccxNhEZR_Q54lKeJqg%3D%3D
(2) Refer http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6345/1393
(3) ‘
It appears that perhaps one-third of our total diet is dependent, directly or indirectly, upon insect-pollinated plants’. McGregor, S.E. su Insect pollination of cultivated crop plants, USDA, Agriculture Handbook 496, 1976
(4) See https://www.agroscope.admin.ch/agroscope/en/home/topics/environment-resources/biodiversity-landscape/functional-ecological-compensation/flower-strips.html
(5) At http://assist.ceh.ac.uk/
(6) See https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/31/stripes-of-wildflowers-across-farm-fields-could-cut-pesticide-spraying

About the author