Global investment in the crop protection industry is guaranteed in the short to medium term, but increasingly tight laws are pushing away innovation from European farmers.
That was the message from Gordon Rennick of the pesticide registration and control division of the department of agriculture, food and the marine in the Republic of Ireland.
Speaking at the British Crop Production Council (BCPC) Congress in Brighton, he highlighted projects such as the collaboration between Syngenta and Rothamsted Research, as part of the research centre’s 20:20 wheat initiative, which aims to improve the UK potential wheat yield to 20t/ha in 20 years.
“It points towards a confidence in the crop protection industry and the system that is in place. It is a multimillion pound investment, so the future has to be bright,” he said.
He also alluded to Bayer CropScience and BASF ramping up their overall global investment of company turnover into research and development for innovative crop protection solutions.
The EU’s onerous pesticide regulations are being blamed for a sharp fall in investment in new products for European farmers.
Europe’s share of global spend on developing new crop protection products has fallen sharply – from 33% in the 1980s to just 16% today, says a new study by agribusiness consultant firm Phillips McDougall.
As a result, the number of new active ingredients being developed and introduced in the EU is decreasing despite a rise in global spend.
However, despite the cash pouring in globally he acknowledged that the future would only be brighter for some, with Europe potentially losing out as pesticide regulations tighten their grip.
With the global population set to rise to nine billion by 2050, supply and demand in the food industry is driving investor confidence.
“The rise of the middle class is also changing eating habits, demanding more meat, dairy and poultry products in diets, and cereal production will be the key driver behind that demand,” said Mr Rennick.
At current average global cereal yields, an estimated 300m hectares – an area the size of India – would be required to meet this demand. This would be disastrous for ecosystems. “The best option is to intensify production on the land that we already have in production,” he added.
With European powers failing to encourage increased production as CAP reform takes more land out of production and the ever tighter regulation of pesticides, it will be increasingly difficult for growers to push up yields.
Mr Rennick noted that the peak of 1,000 available pesticide active substances would never be reached again and predicted it was more realistic that the list would plateau at around 400.
“The effects of the change [from a risk-based] to a hazard-based approval system in Europe are difficult to predict, but it’s only going to get worse as endocrine disruptors [ED] are defined,” he said.
The EC is currently considering the regulatory definition of an ED. Endocrine disruptors can interfere with normal hormone activity in humans, and any substances labeled in this category will not be able to be used in the EU.
He pointed out that wheat production in Ireland would be unsustainable if triazlole fungicides are labeled an ED and could have a devastating impact across the rest of Europe if banned.
“The definition could result in huge swathes of actives being lost and it’s not clear whether the definition of negligible exposure will save them,” he said.
The conveyor belt of new active substances has also slowed down to a trickle, said Mr Rennick, but it is important that the development of new chemistry didn’t stagnate in Europe.
“Despite investments in sustainable practices and stewardship schemes, and despite the agrichemical industry support for the developing world, it still suffers from a poor public profile,” said Mr Rennick.
The recent issue of neonicotinoid insecticides and their affect on bee numbers has been a further blow to that public profile.
However, the issue has resulted in a knee-jerk reaction from the EC, with the result being a two-year ban on neonicotinoid seed treatments in oilseed rape from autumn 2014.
“We shouldn’t be making these decision to appease political agendas without considering the full consequences of policies on the bigger picture,” said Mr Rennick.
As revenue from agrichemical sales in the European Union dwindles from loss of actives and restrictions on pesticide use, there is a risk that member states will miss out on the reinvestment for the development and registration of new products.
Mr Rennick pointed out that global production must go on and, at the very worst, Europe will get what’s left over from the active substances that are taken to market in the developing world.
“How concerned are the European and member state governments about food security?
“Future production will not be without negative consequences, but it is about balancing those negatives with the good,” he said.