Europe accounts for almost a quarter of the growing global pesticide market, with the vast majority of products applied in the agricultural sector. This shows that Europe still relies strongly on plant-protection products, despite regulations and known risks.
The three main classes – herbicides, fungicides and insecticides – are used to protect plants from weeds, fungi and insects. Their application rates vary depending on a farmers’ training and on the crops’ characteristics. Grapes, for example, are a fungicide-intensive crop, and tulips – widespread in the Netherlands – are pesticide-intensive, due to their value and high pest pressure.
Introduced in the 1940s, synthetic pesticides have been evolving ever since. In the early 90s, new EU regulations led to the withdrawal of various compounds, some of which were replaced by more effective products used at lower dosages, leading in some countries to a slight reduction in the volume of pesticide used. Across Europe, various incentives encourage low-pesticide farming: Sweden and Norway both introduced targeted tax schemes in the 1980s, followed by France and Denmark in the late 2000s, though with limited effectiveness. Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany have recently discussed similar measures. Another rival to pesticides’ success, organic agriculture, amounted to 5.4 per cent of the total agricultural area in 2014, an increase of 2.3 per cent from the previous year.
For an infographic showing Europe's pesticide champions visit www.technologist.eu.