Plant protection in EU agriculture
Plant protection products (PPPs) are forms of pesticides used in farming and forestry to protect crops and other plants from pests and diseases. PPPs have an important role to play in helping the European Union to achieve its objectives regarding plant health and food security.
However, overuse and other inappropriate uses of pesticides can have a negative impact on soil, water, and agricultural biodiversity. This can also have detrimental effects on plant, animal, and human health. The use of PPPs is therefore heavily regulated by EU rules on pesticides.
As part of the Farm to Fork strategy – one of the central pillars of the European Green Deal – the European Commission is setting higher ambitions for sustainable pesticide use. One of these ambitions is that by 2030, the use and risk of chemical and more hazardous pesticides in the EU should be reduced by 50%.
The common agricultural policy (CAP) is a cornerstone in the sustainable use of pesticides in agriculture, helping farmers to protect the health of their crops and maintain yields, while also protecting agricultural ecosystems.
The CAP promotes sustainable agricultural systems in the EU, enabling farmers to:
- provide safe, healthy, and sustainably produced food for society;
- earn a stable and fair income, taking into account the full range of public goods they provide;
- protect natural resources, enhance biodiversity, and contribute to the fight against climate change.
Through a number of rules and measures, the CAP supports farmers in the sustainable use of pesticides.
Under cross-compliance rules, all beneficiaries of the CAP have their payments linked with a set of statutory management requirements (SMRs) and good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAECs). Cross-compliance rules relating to pesticides include:
- an SMR which links CAP payments to the EU Regulation on plant protection products and, in future, to the sustainable use of pesticides directive;
- GAECs designed to protect water and soil, which involve the responsible use of pesticides, as well as requirements for biodiversity area.
The sustainable use of pesticides can also be supported through rural development, the so-called 'second pillar' of the CAP. In their rural development programmes, EU countries can include a number of beneficial measures.
- Agri-environmental-climate measures can support alternative approaches to plant protection, such as non-chemical alternatives to pesticides and integrated pest management;
- Measures to support organic farming encourage systems of agriculture with lower pesticide use;
- Measures to support knowledge transfer and information, advisory services, and cooperation can be used to spread knowledge and increase innovation in plant protection.
Certain sectoral measures include environmental actions in the related operational programmes. These environmental actions may include the promotion of the sustainable use of pesticides. This is the case for fruit and vegetables sector.
The CAP 2023-27 promotes further opportunities for sustainable pesticide use, putting agriculture closer in line with the ambitions of the Farm to Fork strategy.
CAP specific objectives
The sustainable use of pesticides is relevant for a number of specific objectives for the CAP 2023-27, particularly those relating to natural resources and biodiversity.
CAP Strategic Plans
In their CAP Strategic Plans, EU countries have the flexibility to tailor strategies and interventions that can reduce national reliance on pesticides, in line with EU targets.
New green architecture
The CAP 2023-27 includes a new green architecture, which enhances opportunities for alternatives to harmful pesticides. For example, the enhanced conditionality of the CAP 2023-27 forms a stronger baseline of legal standards regarding the proper use of pesticides. Moreover, a significant portion of the CAP’s budget is devoted to eco-schemes, which can support voluntary practices by farmers – more ambitious than the legal baseline – that contribute to the sustainable use of pesticides. The Commission published an indicative list of eco-schemes in January 2021. In addition, support for rural development will continue to fund land management payments, investments, knowledge-building, innovation and co-operation relevant to the sustainable use of pesticides.
Knowledge, research, advice and innovation
In order to develop new technologies, techniques and management systems, the Commission supports research and innovation, as well as advice, in agriculture and forestry. Areas of focus include plant health and ecological approaches to farming.
The farm advisory system shares knowledge of new developments and advises farmers on best practices for pest control.
Research in action: integrated pest management
In an effort to reduce the reliance on pesticides, the Commission promotes integrated pest management.
One project supported by EU funding is IWMPRAISE, which aims to demonstrate how integrated weed management supports more sustainable cropping systems that are resilient and profitable. The project brings together 37 partners from eight different European countries, including 11 universities and research institutions, 14 small and medium-sized enterprises and industrial partners, and 12 advisory services and end-user organisations.
The EU also supported the creation of the Farmer’s Toolbox for Intergrated Pest Management. This database includes around 1300 examples of practices, techniques and technologies across eight IPM principles established at EU level and international level. It also includes 273 "crop-specific guidelines" developed by EU countries' national authorities and public bodies to implement the IPM requirements under the Sustainable Use of pesticides Directive (SUD). This toolbox includes good practices to help to replicate some techniques after adapting them to local or regional farm and agro-climatic conditions. It will be updated with additional examples on a regular basis.
In parallel to the database of the Farmer's Toolbox for Intergrated Pest Management, a study explores current IPM practices and their potential to help reduce the dependency on chemical pesticides, their cost for implementation, and their overall effectiveness.
Cross-compliance is governed by rules on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy, as set out in Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013, Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 809/2014, and Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 640/2014.
The rules for green direct payments are set out in Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 639/2014, and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 641/2014.
EU support for rural development comes from the European agricultural fund for rural development (EAFRD), as set out in Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013.