Understanding Europe’s Farm to Fork Strategy
At the core of the European Union’s efforts to become the first climate-neutral continent through the European Green Deal resides their Farm to Fork Strategy. Although the goals of this initiative are ambitious, if successful, they will lead to a more environmentally sustainable food network that positively impacts current inequalities within their food systems. According to the European Commission, the goals of this strategy include:
- Have a neutral or positive environmental impact
- Help mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts
- Reverse the loss of biodiversity
- Ensure food security, nutrition, and public health, making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious, sustainable food
- Preserve affordability of food while generating fairer economic returns, fostering competitiveness of the EU supply sector and promoting fair trade
Within the pages of this ten-year plan to support the European Green Deal exists new regulations surrounding reduced pesticide use, in some cases, by up to 50%. These unheard-of measures have left some farmers scratching their heads as they try to understand the potential impact this will have on their crops and profitability.
Sustainability Isn’t the Villain
Although several lobbyists have spoken out against the Farm to Fork Strategy, most of the concerns appear to be politically motivated, lacking substantial data to validate the prophetic doomsday claims that are floating around. For European farmers, the idea of restricting pesticide use by up to 50% may at first cause a sense of shock or dismay. However, as Thomas Waitz (MEP) of the Green Group discussed earlier this year, European farmers are currently receiving a minor portion of the money from food systems and with the Farm to Fork Strategy, farmers will be positioned to begin receiving a larger portion of revenue generated by the food system. One of the ways in which this will be accomplished is through the reduction of pesticides and other inputs, often a large operating expense for agricultural operators.
Naturally, as farmers reduce their pesticide use, the sustainability of their farm and the local biodiversity will improve. This melding of two ideals is exactly the scenario that the Farm to Fork Strategy hopes to instigate — a win-win for farmers, consumers, and the environment. That said, these aggressive regulations can remain a tough pill for some farmers to swallow considering that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that 20-40% of global crop production is lost each year to pests. Shocking statistics like this one often leaves farmers questioning how they can possibly remain operational if they’re soon to be restricted to half the ammunition against pests. As with many problems faced by society, advances in technology allow innovators to step in and save the day — or in this case, the farm.
How Can Farmers Leverage Big Data & Tech to Optimize Pesticide Use?
Outside of the lobbyists and political theater behind European parliament walls, some of the ag-tech industry’s brightest minds have been working to provide a supportive solution to one of the Farm to Fork Strategy’s more daunting goals — reducing pesticide use. For decades, farmers have relied on sticky traps to monitor for pests in their fields. However, if you ask any farmer how effective these traps are as far as determining when and where pests are present, you’ll likely be met with a roll of the eyes or sarcastic snicker. In most cases, this show of frustration will be followed with a sundry of reasons why the data gathered from sticky traps, which have remained largely unchanged over several decades, is typically worthless. The intel gathered from sticky traps — which is a task that must be completed manually by a person who is able to identify the target — is considered by most to be inaccurate, costly, and out-of-date by the time it reaches the farmer, unless the trap is checked manually every day.
Due to the low quality of information gathered from sticky traps, many farmers are forced to take preventative measures and cover their crops with broad-spectrum pesticides on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, most of that weekly spray is not optimized as it is often applied in sub-optimal locations, conditions, or is poorly timed. This suboptimal use of pesticides not only impacts a farm’s profitability, but can also lead to negative environmental effects, unintended collateral damage to pollinators, other beneficial insects, development of pesticide resistance, and ultimately contributes to a farm’s overall increased carbon footprint. However, thanks to innovation, there’s now a piece of technology that enhances the ability to manage to this long-standing problem.
The Ag-Tech Industry’s Solution to Optimized and Responsible Pesticide Use – A Win-Win Scenario
With large initiatives like the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy now targeting the reduction of broad-spectrum pesticide application, many farmers outside of European borders are wondering if and when their governing bodies and regulatory agencies will enact similar measures. Fortunately, California based ag-tech startup, FarmSense, is revolutionizing pesticide application tactics by pioneering the field of computational entomology, digitizing what was the untimely and manual chore of monitoring pests. Computational entomology is enabling farmers to utilize data collected in their fields to optimize their integrated pest management (IPM) efforts — in a sustainable manner.
Founded by Drs. Hickle, Singh, and Keogh, FarmSense is responsible for the FlightSensor, an award-winning device capable of providing farmers with real-time metrics surrounding localized pest pressure and identification, as well as several climatological values. FarmSense’s FlightSensor devices are strategically placed in a farmer’s field where the collected data is wirelessly transmitted to a personal dashboard or app on the farmer’s computer or mobile device.
So, how can this data reduce pesticide use? With the FlightSensors in place, farmers can utilize the real-time metrics to optimize the timing, type, and application rate of pesticides to best target the species of pests that have been identified in their fields. This means no more waiting for labor to provide spotty details of what they think they saw in sticky traps. Data from the FlightSensor gives farmers a birds-eye view of pest pressure in their fields, which can also translate to alternatives to pesticides. Greater precision in observations grants farmers additional pest management options in decision making such as the use of numerical economic thresholds, pheromones, or growth regulators instead of relying solely on broad-spectrum pesticides.
Pesticide use restrictions and regulations will likely become more commonplace and many farmers are taking pre-emptive actions to prepare. One component in reducing pesticide usage will be the automation of insect monitoring, enabling precise pest population estimates to optimize pest control decision making. FarmSense’s FlightSensor is an excellent jumping-off point for those who want to better secure their farm’s longevity, profitability, and sustainability. For more information or to request a demo of the FlightSensor, contact FarmSense.