Reducing pesticide usage without risking yield

Nested within regenerative and lower input systems are the integrated pest management practices which reduce the risks of pest and disease outbreaks and yield losses. Sustainable and stewarded use of pesticides is integral to our current crop production systems, where they are used to protect yields and, by extension, food security.

As such they reduce the carbon footprint and cost per unit of food. But the biodiversity crisis is very real, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices aim to maintain or increase farm productivity and profits while minimising negative impacts on the environment. However, there is much debate on the best IPM practices, and the best approaches for encouraging further adoption of IPM options. In an ideal world, buyers would offer greater market access for food produced in systems based on IPM principles.

Government may also offer support to farmers wishing to increase their adoption of IPM practices. With emerging detail on the whole farm plans that will be built in to the measures incentivised by Scotland’s Agriculture Bill, we need to identify which practices are going to deliver for food security and biodiversity, and we need to be flexible in the options available to famers. 

Reducing pesticide inputs can mean accepting greater uncertainty when it comes to pest and disease outbreaks and yield loss, so farmer attitudes to risk are key to the measures which they willingly take up. Risk-averse farmers are probably more likely to monitor and scout crops regularly and prefer management strategies that favours the mitigation of a disease or pest outbreak, compared to management strategies that favours the retrospective control of an outbreak with pesticides. By promoting stability in crop yields, risk-averse producers are also more likely to implement cultural practices, such as longer rotations or resistant varieties, that minimise yield variability.

We know from SRUC research that the more familiar farmers are with IPM practices, the greater their uptake of IPM. For arable farmers, larger farms score higher for IPM, and this may relate to greater opportunities to attend training and events. One option for Government is not just to incentivise IPM practices, but also to support advisory schemes and CPD. Work by Scotland’s Plant Health Centre shows that, people look for plant health and IPM information in a variety of places.

In Scotland, academic papers are highly trusted, but not widely read, while social media is interestingly not particularly widely read as source of information and (perhaps not so surprising) it has a low trust score. Trusted intermediaries are still a key source of advice and interpretation. High IPM scorers more actively seek out information and attend discussion groups and use independent agronomists. The farming / technical press is also more widely used as an information source in Scotland than elsewhere.

SRUC and ADAS worked with DEFRA to gather evidence from farmer workshops on which IPM practices should be supported, under England’s Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) and the extent to which possible paid actions were already being implemented on farm. The most important outcome was that flexibility in selecting IPM options is key. IPM options are unlikely to be adopted as set bundles of actions, as crops are produced in different systems and environments which means that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate. The only option that was supported by all types of growers was payment for IPM planning.

If you would like to know more about how SRUC supports farmers in England to take action in this space, visit

Posted by Fiona Burnett on 19/06/2024

Tags: Agriculture, Biodiversity, Climate and Environment, Food and Drink, SAC Consulting
Categories: Research | Consulting and Commercial | Natural Economy | Sustainability