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Minor crops need major help to remain sustainable

The absence of viable plant protection solutions for minor crops costs more than one billion euros per year and impacts nine million hectares throughout Europe.

2016.04.17 | Janne Hansen

Integrated pest management is the way to go in order to protect minor crops against diseases, weeds and pests. Photo: Colourbox

When you think about agricultural crops, your first thoughts may conjure up images of wheat, maize and oilseed rape. Although you might not immediately think of smaller crops such as cherries, cabbage and campanula, they are also important. Even though they are denoted “minor crops”, they still have a major economic impact.


In the European Union minor crops, which include vegetables, fruits, nursery stock and ornamentals, have a production value of over 60 billion euros per year, which is more than 20 per cent of the value of EU’s total agricultural production. The problem is that the range of artillery against insects, diseases and weeds in minor crops is shrinking. This poses a risk to a sustainable production of these crops. Scientists from a number of European countries are calling attention to the problem.


- The number of minor crops in Europe without viable solutions for plant protection has increased in recent years. This is mainly due to the lack of pesticides in certain crops, as several previously authorized pesticides have not been re-authorized due to a stricter regulation, a group of scientists point out in an article published in Crop Protection.


One of these scientists is professor Per Kudsk from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.


- The sustainable production of minor crops is vital for human health, the environment and the economy. This sustainability can only be realized by the continued availability of crop protection solutions for pest control, he states.


Lack of pesticides costs money

The introduction of tropical or sub-tropical crops and their pests into Europe has also contributed to the problem as pesticides used elsewhere to protect these crops are not allowed in Europe. The direct economic impact due to the absence of viable plant protection solutions for minor crops has been estimated to be more than one billion euros per year, impacting nine million hectares throughout Europe.


The limited range of pesticides available to farmers has also increased the risk of resistance development. In the absence of a sufficient number of pesticides with various modes of action, farmers end up applying a narrow spectrum of molecules repetitively.


Although short-term solutions based on chemical pesticides are useful for growers, this might not be sustainable in the long term given that the availability of such products will be more and more restricted due to stringent risk assessment and subsequent authorization.


Integrated Pest Management is the way forward

The application of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an important part of the solution. IPM can be regarded as a toolbox that offers so much more than merely pesticides. Measures can include biocontrol, alternative planting and growing methods, mechanical weeding and so on. The Department of Agroecology has been conducting studies in IPM for years and is presently strengthening its efforts with regard to IPM in minor crops.   


- Problems regarding minor uses need to be overcome by combining all available solutions and adopting IPM approaches. We need to increase efforts to develop alternative methods and tools as well as approaches which help farmers adopt IPM measures, says Per Kudsk, who is active in European networks addressing these issues, such as ENDURE and C-IPM.


Involvement and commitment of stakeholders, such as governments, regulatory authorities, growers, technical experts, and the crop protection industry, are also needed to find long-term alternatives to address the issues regarding minor uses.


Read the article “Challenges and opportunities for integrated pest management in Europe: A telling example of minor uses” published in Crop Protection.


For more information please contact Professor Per Kudsk, Department of Agroecology, e-mail: per.kudsk@agro.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 8096, mobile: +45 2228 3382



Sustainable Pest Management is one of the research areas in which the Department of Agroecology is particularly strong and from which results are delivered in line with national and global societal challenges and goals.

DCA, Agro, Crops