May. 19, 2022
With the ambition of reducing the use of plant protection products (PPPs), Agroscope researchers in Switzerland have conducted a study on farmers’ behavioural patterns when using PPP on their crops.
Agroscope notes that sociological research has shown that farmers’ behaviour is not just determined by rational decisions, but also by routinised actions. Agroscope researchers have therefore used farmer interviews and a survey to analyse crop protection practices from this perspective.
Agroscope reports: “The researchers identified five types of practices. Although several types of crop protection practices can be used simultaneously on a farm, e.g. on different fields or crops, one sort of practice appears to predominate on each farm. The aim of the study was not to investigate how many and which farmers used what practices, but rather to determine which routinised actions are important when carrying out crop protection practices. This would identify tendencies and provide food for thought concerning what policy measures could contribute in given situations to a reduction of plant-protection product use.”
The five types of practices identified by Agroscope researchers are:
Conventional crop protection
Agroscope reports: “Farmers rely on tried-and-tested methods and use PPPs according to a treatment plan or strategy which they develop at the start of the growing year. This strategy is based on their own experience and on advice in many cases obtained from the private sector. Farmers’ personal identities are shaped by their farms and by their produce, which is often produced for the wholesale market and is thus subject to strict requirements. The pursuit of ‘clean fields’ and high yields also plays a role here.”
Low-input crop protection
Agroscope reports: “The guiding principle here is the market-oriented strategic development of the farm, which is mainly pursued by producing for sought-after labels like IP-Suisse or Bio Suisse. Farms can benefit from price premiums, so that they can ‘monetise their ecological value-added on the market’, as one survey participant put it. Direct payments are important for offsetting the risks of reduced PPP use. Pests and diseases are tolerated up to a certain point, partly from the desire to reconcile plant protection with their own and society’s demands.”
Crop protection that minimises costs and workload
Agroscope reports: “This practice is based on the idea that crop protection needs to be cost-efficient and must not require a particularly high expenditure of effort. Farmers know how to offset the lower yields of extensive production with saved labour and direct payments. The farms are often run as a sideline, however, and preserving their ancestral land is a prime consideration.”
Outsourcing crop protection to contractors
Agroscope reports: “The main interest and competences of farm managers practising this sort of crop protection lie in livestock production or dairy farming rather than in plant production. This means that they employ contractors who tend to rely on synthetic chemical PPPs for crop protection. Outsourcing is associated with high fixed costs for the farmer, making the attempt to change PPP-use patterns financially risky.”
Agroecological plant protection
Agroscope reports: “With this practice, crop protection is based on agroecological principles and regenerative agriculture. A frequently stated reason for and aim of this holistic approach is healthy soils as the basis of environmentally sound agriculture. The farmers see themselves as allies of nature. ‘Work to build, not to destroy’ is a typical statement reflecting this approach.”
Agroscope researchers conclude that crop protection is not ‘one size fits all’ in Swiss agriculture. Rather, it is notable for a wide range of different plant protection practices and behavioural patterns which can be categorised in five types of crop protection practices (see above). They report that depending on the type of practice, policy measures to reduce PPP use can be expected to have different effects.
Agroscope reports: “Financial considerations and competences play a role with (nearly) all groups, which is why targeted financial incentives, initial and continuing training, and advice from extension services are important tools for reducing PPP use. ‘Soft’ factors such as social norms, personal values and one’s identity as a farmer also exert their influence in different ways, however. These may override other factors and must also be borne in mind when evaluating the effectiveness of new measures.”
For more information:
Read the full story on the Agroscope website here
Read the full paper, Understanding diversity in farmers’ routinized crop protection practices, in the Journal of Rural Studies here