The SAGROPIA team, featuring members from the coordinators RTDS Association and the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, recently represented the project at the IPM Conference 2024, titled “Holistic IPM: Reducing Pesticide Use.” This conference, held on 14. May in Brussels was organized by the IPM Decisions and IPMWorks, and marked the conclusion of Horizon 2020 sister projects.

This day-long conference at the popular Herman Teirlinck building, in the heart of Brussels,  attracted over 130 attendees from around 15 European countries, including representatives from various agricultural, plant health, and pest management organizations, research institutes, and industry actors.

To raise awareness about the recently launched SAGROPIA project, a promotional poster and project flyers were showcased and distributed respectively.

This new Horizon Europe project generated a lot of interest at this event, with participants from the integrated pest management (IPM) community keen to know more about its foreseen biological solutions for pesticide reduction and advanced IPM strategies for row crops like potato and sugar beet.

Dr. Günter Brader from AIT, with the SAGROPIA poster

SAGROPIA highlighted as a key project for “innovation in plant protection”

The conference was opened by Diego Canga Fano, Director of Quality Policy, Research & Innovation, and Outreach of the European Commission’s Directorate for Agriculture (DG AGRI). In his speech, Canga highlighted SAGROPIA (full video here), as one of the key projects, innovating plant protection in Europe. He emphasized the significance of initiatives like SAGROPIA in reducing our reliance on harmful chemical pesticides and fostering the development of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies that are both economically viable and environmentally sustainable.

Diego Canga Fano during his opening speech

IPM in action

Nick Paveley and Mark Ramsden from ADAS, a member of the project coordination of IPM Decisions, summarized the main outcomes of the IPM Decisions project. This was followed by an engaging presentation on scientific evidence of pest regulation through landscape diversity by Dr Sandrine Petit, from INRAE, France. She spoke about how ecological intensification of agriculture (EIA) aims to assure food security by harnessing ecosystem services. Available modeling tools and approaches to forecasting natural pest control were diverse and promising, but the integration of accurate descriptions of farming practices at the landscape scale remains a challenge. According to Petit, few studies integrated socio-economic aspects and provided approaches to guide and co-design the transition to future agroecological landscapes.

Nick Paveley from ADAS & Sandrine Petit, INRAE

Further into the event, speaking on quantifying the potential of reducing pesticides, Prof. Titto Catiff (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore), spoke on the framework for the implementation of IPM, based on the decision-making process, which involves four kinds of decisions.

  • Strategic
  • tactical on whether and when
  • on which control measures to be adopted
  • operational decisions.

Each type of decision plays a critical role in ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of the IPM program. Strategic decisions are long-term and focus on the overall goals and direction of the pest management program. These decisions set the framework within which all other decisions are made. They often involve goal setting, policy development, resource allocation, research and development including risk management.

Tactical decisions are medium-term and focus on planning and scheduling activities to achieve strategic goals. These decisions involve determining whether and when to implement specific control measures. They include pest monitoring, intervention intervals, selection of control measures, etc.

The decisions on “which control measures to adopt” involve selecting specific pest control methods that will be used to manage pest populations. The choice of control measures is critical and is based on the following considerations. Effectiveness, environmental impact, economic viability, compatibility of control measures with other IPM strategies and agricultural practices, and long-term sustainability of such control measures.

Operational decisions are short-term and involve the day-to-day implementation of pest control measures. These decisions ensure that the chosen control strategies are executed effectively and efficiently. They include the application of control measures, continuously evaluating the effectiveness of control measures, and adjusting as required to improve results.

In an effective IPM program, these four types of decisions are interconnected and inform one another. Strategic decisions provide the foundation for tactical planning, which in turn guides the selection of control measures. Operational decisions ensure that the chosen control measures are implemented effectively. Continuous monitoring and evaluation feedback into the decision-making process, allowing for adaptive management and continuous improvement of the IPM program. This integrated approach ensures that pest management is sustainable, environmentally responsible, and economically viable.

Importance of decision support systems

Emphasizing the role of decision support systems (DSS), Dr. Stefane Carlesi (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna) presented the effectiveness of rock powder for olive-fly control. The olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae) is the most serious pest for olives. The larvae (maggots) of the olive fruit fly feed inside the fruit, destroying the pulp and allowing the entry of secondary bacteria and fungi that lead to the rotting of the fruit. Feeding damage can cause premature fruit drops and reduce fruit quality for both table olive and olive oil production.

Carlesi mentioned that pest control might not be only non-chemical but highly DSS (decision support system). According to him, a healthy crop has reduced pesticide use and impact, a safer environment, enhanced biodiversity, avoidance of resistance and better pest control. Moreover, he spoke about the 5 pillars of holistic IPM.

  1. Agricultural landscapes with diverse semi-natural habitats
  2. Cropping system designed to decrease.
  3. Preferential use of non-chemical control options
  4. Optimized decision-making to avoid unnecessary treatments.
  5. Increased efficiency of treatments

Tito Catiff (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy) and Stefan Carlesi (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna)

After the coffee break, the session continued with the topic of holistic weed management strategy in arable farming by Johan Devriendt.  Devriendt is a farmer from Jura in the Flemish part of Belgium and maintains a farmland along with his family. He shared his personal experiences on weed management and how his farm is adapting to welcoming diverse crops. He also emphasized that good IPM strategies are required for crop health as well as for the health of his farm and family.

Genetics of Late Blight in Potatoes

Johan Devriendt, Farmer from Jura and Harm Brinks from Delphy

Harm Brinks, an agricultural specialist from Delphy International, presented genetics of Late Blight in potatoes. According to him, “the current crop protection strategy for potatoes is not durable”. Strategies based on fungicides alone and on host resistance alone are not long lasting. A fully integrated approach to pest and disease control is urgently needed. The genetic component in IPM is extremely valuable (but needs protection). For many pests, no resistant varieties are available yet.

Active ingredients (Fungicides) are needed to protect the host resistance genes. A fully integrated approach, including sanitation, host resistance, and low-input fungicides is the most durable option for the future. A significant reduction of pesticide input is possible. Support and acceptance in the value chain are necessary.

Evidence of IPM cost efficiency: results from our network

Dr. Mette Sønderskov from Aarhus University, presented the most discussed and debated topic on the cost-effectiveness of IPM. Sønderskov, discussed the methods of biocontrol measures like using bait with hormones, chemotropic/biological attraction, mating disruption or mating confusion, and enhancement of natural regulation. Biopesticides, derived from natural materials such as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals, offer a cost-effective alternative to conventional chemical pesticides. Their cost-effectiveness arises from several factors: reduced development and registration costs, minimal environmental impact, and the potential for sustainable pest management. As biopesticides are typically less harmful to beneficial insects and ecosystems, they can decrease the long-term costs associated with environmental cleanup and health care. Additionally, their use can mitigate the development of pest resistance, ensuring long-term efficacy and reducing the economic burden on agricultural systems. Thus, the integration of biopesticides into pest management programs can enhance both economic and environmental sustainability.

Mette Sønderskov on cost-effective IPM

IPM Demo Hubs

In the Peer-to-Peer learning session, Laure Triste and her team from IPM Works, presented stories of creating Demo Hubs for farmer groups within the project. In the video presented here, Laure emphasized the importance of first knowing the farmers, creating a safe space for them to interact and finally fostering a dialogue, leading to future communications and joint agenda development. Speaking on the key role of a Hub Coach, Triste emphasized providing individual advice, organizing demo events for the wider public, facilitating the hub as a group, also connecting the hub internationally.

Laure Triste on IPM Hubs

Speaking of the importance of Demo Hubs, Triste informed that it is very important to show that IPM strategies work on the ground, for which the following points need to be checked.

  • Relate to potential motivations for farmers to adopt IPM practices (technical, Economic, Market, Regulation)
  • Adapt the topic and location for the audience.
  • Take into account the farming calendar (crop seasons).
  • Show success stories and challenges.
  • Facilitate interaction and reflection.

Workshop on Biological Control in Integrated Pest Management

The workshop was conducted by Karel Bolkmans, from the BioFirst group. Also, it featured experiences on IPM in private farms from the Belgian farmer and vine grower Christian Balduyck of the Glabais vineyard in the Walloon Brabant province in Belgium.

Discussing biocontrol-based IPM, Bolkmans said that prevention, monitoring, and suppression are the three important points. Biological control, or biocontrol, is a vital component of integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that aim to manage pest populations using natural enemies. The growing concern over pesticide resistance, pesticide residue, and the environmental impact of chemical controls has led to increased interest in biocontrol methods. In the workshop, the different types of biocontrol and their benefits were explored briefly:

  • Classical Biological control: Introduction of ecologically adapted natural enemies from the area of origin.
  • Conservative Biological Control and Conservation of natural enemies in the agroecosystem by using cultural practices or habitat management to enhance their activities and by eliminating non-selective pesticide sprays.
  • Augmentative biological control involves the release of mass-reared natural enemies to manage pest populations. There are two primary methods:
  1. Seasonal Inoculative Biological Control: Natural enemies are released periodically to establish a population that controls pests over a season.
  2. Inundative Biological Control: Large numbers of natural enemies are released to quickly reduce pest populations.

The main benefits of biological control are:

  • Reduction in Pesticide Use: By utilizing biological control, the reliance on chemical pesticides is significantly reduced.
  • Pesticide Resistance: Biological control helps mitigate issues related to pests developing resistance to chemical pesticides.
  • Pesticide Reregistration and Residue Requirements: Using biological control can simplify compliance with pesticide reregistration and reduce concerns about chemical residues on crops.

Effectiveness and Affordability of Biocontrol-Based IPM

The workshop participants agreed that the effectiveness of biocontrol methods has been well-documented. Advanced large-scale production technologies have made biocontrol affordable for use in row crops, making it a viable option for many agricultural practices. However, workshop participants stated that the availability of modern biopesticides is limited for European farmers compared to other parts of the world, due to the very slow registration process.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that incorporates biocontrol strategies offers proven effectiveness and affordability, particularly for row crops due to advanced production technologies. The benefits of biocontrol outlined were:

  • Proven Effectiveness: Numerous studies have demonstrated the successful implementation of biocontrol in managing pest populations.
  • Affordability: Large-scale production technologies make biocontrol solutions cost-effective for farmers.
  • Regulatory Challenges: However, the availability of modern biopesticides remains limited for European farmers compared to other regions, primarily due to the slow registration process.

Biocontrol methods as a suitable alternative to traditional chemical pesticides

The workshop concluded that biocontrol methods, including classical, conservative, and augmentative biological control, offer sustainable, effective, and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional chemical pesticides. These strategies not only help reduce pesticide use and mitigate resistance but also support biodiversity and ecosystem health. As regulatory processes evolve and more biocontrol products become available, the adoption of biocontrol-based IPM will continue to grow, benefiting farmers and the environment alike.

Karel Bolkmans on Biocontrol Based IPM

Takeaway Message: Charting a sustainable path and  commitment to innovative IPM Strategies

The workshop concluded that biocontrol methods, including classical, conservative, and augmentative biological control, offer sustainable, effective, and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional chemical pesticides. These strategies not only help reduce pesticide use and mitigate resistance but also support biodiversity and ecosystem health. As regulatory processes evolve and more biocontrol products become available, the adoption of biocontrol-based IPM will continue to grow, benefiting farmers and the environment alike.

Closing remarks by Urban Hrovatič, SEASN

The conference underscored that SAGROPIA can gain valuable insights from similar projects and the holistic IPM approaches showcased in this platform. As reiterated by Mr. Canga at the very beginning, SAGROPIA and other IPM-focused projects are vital for future advancements in pest management. SAGROPIA is committed to developing new and innovative IPM strategies, and the conference provided crucial information to guide these efforts. By focusing on maintaining the ecological balance and minimizing the reliance on chemical interventions, SAGROPIA aims to reduce environmental and health risks while promoting long-term sustainability and economic applicability in agricultural practices.

Reneema Hazarika
Communication and Dissemination Manager
Picture credits @RTDS (For more images from the conference please visit the SAGROPIA photo gallery

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