Raising awareness to pesticide risk reduction on the farm for the benefit of health and the environment

Project Code PRR07-300

Project Lead

Claude Laniel - Conseil québécois de l'horticulture

Objective

To validate and implement a pesticide risk indicator software package for 5 crops (strawberry, corn, sweet corn, dry onion, apple, potato), educate crop advisors, and assess the pesticide risk reduction resulting from the use of the indicator

Summary of Results

Background

In agriculture, pest control products are typically chosen on the basis of the type of pest, effectiveness, cost, pre-harvest interval allowance, and health and environmental risks. While most of these factors can be easily determined by the user, the risk of a given product to human health (the health of consumers and pesticide applicators) and the environment is not easy to quantify. Moreover, the importance that growers attach to these risk factors when they are selecting a pest control product is not clear. However, since spring 2007, growers, crop advisors and agribusinesses involved in plant protection in Quebec have had access to a new online tool called QPRI (Québec Pesticide Risk Indicator) Express that helps them assess pesticide risks.

QPRI Express is based on the QPRI, a diagnostic tool for assessing the risk associated with specific products and a decision-making tool for optimizing the management of pesticide use. The QPRI has a health component (QPRI-Health) and an environment component (QPRI-Environment), to calculate the health risk indicator (HRI, which represents acute toxicity and chronic toxicity) and the environmental risk indicator (ERI, which represents physico-chemical and ecotoxicological properties) of the product, respectively. In theory, products with higher HRIs and HRIs are more toxic than those with lower indicator values. The QPRI enables users to select lower-risk products within an integrated pest management context.

The QPRI Express indicator software is an online tool developed to help users calculate health risks (PestRI-Health) and environmental risks (PestRI-Environment) for all pesticides used in a given farm business. QPRI Express can be used to track changes in risks from year to year, including for an entire region.

Methods

The project was carried out in Quebec and consisted of three main aspects: raising stakeholder awareness of the value of QPRI Express, validating QPRI Express using actual farm data and creating risk compilations to analyze the health and environmental risks of pesticides. Five crops (strawberry, sweet corn, dry onion, potato and apple) and 100 businesses were selected on an experimental basis.

The QPRI Express software package was used to calculate PestRI-Health and PestRI-Environment indicators using records of the pesticides applied and the dosages used by the selected businesses over the three years of the study (2007–2009). PestRI-Health and PestRI-Environment were reported on a per-hectare basis for each business.

The calculation of pressure indexes (kilograms of active ingredients applied per hectare) was also incorporated into the compilations. Risk is affected both by the amounts applied and by how hazardous the product is. The pressure index can reveal whether it is the products or the amounts used that contribute the most to the risk level.

The businesses were monitored by advisors from agri-environmental advisory clubs or technical support clubs. The advisors obtained the pesticide application records and compiled the data using QPRI Express, which enabled them to calculate risk indicators for each business over the entire production period. At the end of each year, compilations were made to assess the change in risk for each participating business and for each crop. The risks for a given business were compared from year to year to monitor changes in pesticide risks from 2007 to 2009.

Results

According to the results from QPRI Express, 43% of all businesses monitored reduced environmental risks (PestRI-Environment/ha varying from -0.9% to -58.1%), 30% reduced health risks (PestRI-Health/ha varying from -1.4% to -69.9%) and 32% reduced environmental pressures (pressure index varying from -1.9% to -88.5%) associated with the use of pesticides from 2007 to 2009.

In the same period, 55% of strawberry-growing businesses, 45% of sweet corn-growing businesses, 50% of dry onion-growing businesses, 55% of potato-growing businesses and 55% of apple-growing businesses were able to significantly reduce environmental or health risks associated with pesticide use, according to QPRI Express. Note that, in 2008 and 2009, the summer season was extremely wet, and disease pressure was very high in fields and orchards compared to summer 2007, which led to the intensive use of fungicides, especially on strawberry, apple and dry onion crops.

There was some variability in the PestRI-Environment/ha, PestRI-Health/ha and pressure index for certain businesses for a given crop. Certain factors such as the type and nature of the products used, the amount applied and the number of applications are significant factors that may partly explain that variability.

As part of this project, a survey of advisors who had monitored the selected businesses was conducted to find out their opinion about the tool and the project's progress, the importance that they attached to the tool and the use that they would make of the tool in upcoming years once it was implemented. Most of the respondents said that QPRI Express was a useful way to help growers reduce the risks associated with pesticides. However, they also stated that it would be mostly the advisors who would use QPRI Express when making recommendations to growers, to make and track risk compilations for their businesses.

Conclusion

Overall, this project has raised stakeholder awareness of the benefits and importance of using QPRI in their professional practices. It has also improved the tool and made it easier for growers and advisors to adopt the indicator. It was shown that the tool could be used to make a judicious selection of pesticides and control strategies for a given crop. Furthermore, the project made advisors more aware of the effects of pesticide use on the environment and on health, which will likely be reflected in their future recommendations to growers.

As part of an integrated pest management strategy, the QPRI puts into perspective the risks associated with pesticides while enabling lower-risk solutions to be found. QPRI Express is essential for the horticultural sector, because it simplifies decision making for stakeholders and growers, who must regularly and quickly make informed, responsible decisions regarding pesticides.

For more information, please contact Claude Laniel, Conseil Québécois de l'Horticulture (CQH).

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