Guy Singh-Watson: Pesticides in agriculture; there is another way

The main source of information for farmers today is the agrochemical industry so if you’ve got a problem and you ring up an agrochemical salesman he will have a solution in a can that will solve all your problems. He’s not going to tell you that if you grew a different variety you wouldn’t have the problem in the first place, or if you grew them further apart wouldn’t get a problem. He wouldn’t make money out of that. He makes money by selling chemicals. Back in 1986 when I planted my first field of vegetables I was not utterly committed to organic I just really didn’t want to use those chemicals with skulls and crossbones on them. The first crop that I grew was leeks. They started developing these little red pustules like this one here. It’s called Rust Puccinia. It’s a disease that’s spread by rain splash in warm weather. It just ripped through the field and it looked like I would loose the whole crop. So I made a few phone calls and the agrochemical salesman told me what you need to do is spray it with some fungicide and that’ll clear it up. Anyway I didn’t and then it got colder and the leeks grew away from the rust and I ended up with a fantastic crop. When you’re a farmer in your field and it’s all going wrong that little whisper in your ear of all your solutions in a chemical container is pretty persuasive and I’m very glad we didn’t listen to them. We have subsequently found out that there are varieties of leeks which have good resistance to rust. By growing those varieties and growing them a bit further apart it really is not necessary to spray leeks with fungicide. Today about 75% of acrochemicals are sold by 4 global companies and increasingly they’ve also bought the seed industry, which means they control the supply of seeds and the use of chemicals and they have been completely dictating the direction that agriculture has gone in. It’s really more about their profits than it is about producing healthy food or maintaining farmers’ incomes. I think greenhouses are a really interesting example of what can be done with an ecological or biological approach to pest control. When we put up our first tunnels 20 years ago to grow peppers and tomatoes and aubergines they were devastated by red spider mite and aphids. They just went in there and had a field day. We were then advised to actually fumigate our greenhouses with some really toxic chemicals. At the time we were assured by the government that these were safe chemicals to use. If they were safe then and they’re not safe now, how are we supposed to believe the governement when they tell us it is safe to use neonicotinoids? I’m pretty sure they will be banned just like virtually all of the chemicals I used as a teenager have been banned. There’s no safe level for a nervous system disrupting insecticide, there’s no safe level for a hormone disrupting herbicide, not for a bee, not for a leek and not for a human. We slowly found that by managing the habitat to encourage the predatory insects, and sometimes actually introducing predatory insects, that we could control all those pests. Interestingly 20 years later that’s what everyone’s doing because all the chemicals they were using, either the insects have acquired resistance, or they’ve been banned because they’re not safe for use. Almost everyone is now using an ecological approach to insect control in greenhouses because they’ve had to. To arrive at a saner agricultural system we really do need to invest in knowledge and we can’t expect private enterprise to do this because it doesn’t produce something that’s sale-able. We need agricultural colleges, we need horticultural colleges we need natural sciences that aren’t funded by the agrochemical companies. Since the 1970s the government has been gradually withdrawing anything that it regards as near market research. If you allow the industry to fund research the industry will lead you towards things it can make money out of, and that’s what’s happened in agriculture since the 1960s.

13 thoughts on “Guy Singh-Watson: Pesticides in agriculture; there is another way

  1. So much common sense from Guy in this video. So glad that Riverford is there and that we are able buy the high quality, fabulous tasting and safe food that they produce.

  2. Very well said Guy – we totally agree at Shillingford Organics that investing in knowledge is crucial and there really should be more agricultural and horticultural colleges, and definitely natural sciences that are not funded by agri-chemical companies.

    There has to be a paradigm shift and knowledge transference will definitely help people to better understand the importance of building a food future fit for our children and the planet.

  3. Absolutely right and what is more very few who buy at supermarkets realise the massive power and influence of the GM 'aggrochem' producers of the Monsanto/ Bayer ilk, pity the completely self obsessed media does not focus on this more.

  4. I love the solutions you managed to find for the pest problem, and yes ref pesticides that are stated to be safe today, will absolutely be proven dangerous in the future, im in no doubt about that, great video guy, thank you

  5. And we wonder why sooo many people get Cancer !! Its truly disgusting how they poisen us. I grow organic veg in a community garden and love it, love it, love it. Tastes great and who cares if it doesn't look per fect! Well down for sticking to your principles! Shame so few do

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