Farmers in western France are focusing on rare crops, breeding millions of small predatory insects and wasps to protect tomato plants without relying on chemical crop protection. “This is in one of the insect greenhouses called Macrolovs,” says Pierre Eve Jestin, with a cloud of pale green insects swarming in his hands. Jestin is France’s largest tomato producer and president of the Brittany Cooperative Saveol, which produces 74,000 tons annually.
Co-operatives have been promoting “chemical-free” harvests over the last few years in response to growing concerns about the impact of harsh chemicals on humans and the environment. It now extends over 4,500 square meters outside of Brest, where the tip of Brittany protrudes into the Atlantic Ocean, thanks to its own bug farm, which was launched in 1983.
Each week, the insects are packed in plastic boxes and shipped to 126 growers in the co-operative. “This new expansion allows us to increase the breeding of macrolofus, and the demand for a pesticide-free range is increasing,” said Roselyne Souriau, Head of Insects Program at Saveol. “At the same time, we can develop a new range more suitable for strawberries, including parasitic microhornets that feed on aphids. At least we want.”
“In 2020, we didn’t use any chemical treatments,” says François Polyken, who owns eight hectares of the Saveur d’Iroise farm. “Consumers are now looking for a healthy diet,” he said. “Of course, organic produce exists, but it’s not always within reach of people on a budget.” “Pesticide-free is still an alternative and third method for healthy mass production,” he said.
Overall, the use of predatory insects by French farmers is skyrocketing, and regulators approved 257 to 330 species of plant pests in the first quarter of this year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Every week, fresh crops of aphid repellent are shaken from tobacco leaves, grown there and shipped to growers.
At Savor’s insect farm, hundreds of cigarettes in the same family as tomatoes and eggplants have predatory insects that feed on moth eggs. The wide leaves make it easy for workers to cut off the top of the plant, shake the bugs and put them in a huge metal funnel. With about 10 million macrolovs and 130 million wasps produced each year, Saveol claims to be Europe’s only producers’ cooperative with its own insect breeding facility.
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