I DIDN’T SIGN THIS PETITION, with which, in principle, I agree.
I get it in Facebook. It was about agriculture, so obviously it interested me.
It is in French. The issue is that a farmer in the area of Burgundy in France refused, last summer, to do a spraying in his vineyard. It turns out that the area in question is being invaded by an insect, a leafhopper (Scaphoides titanus), itself little dangerous, but vector of a very serious disease of the vineyard. The local administration enjoined the obligation to make a treatment to reduce the population level, but the farmer refused. He argues that the product is dangerous to bees and that it exists an effective natural method. A petition began to circulate to defend him, because he could be sentenced with a fine and imprisonment.
At first glance, I agree with the text, or at least with the beginning.
The golden flavescence is a very serious disease, mainly present in France and Italy. It has no cure and is very contagious. The only effective protection is to make a good control of the vector insect vector that transmits, and to tear off each vineyard that looks infected, and burn it. It is a phytoplasma , that is a type of bacteria without a cell wall, a infectious DNA.
I don’t especially know the situation, nor disease, nor of the Burgundy region, so it seems consistent to me, that an organic farmer prefers non-chemical methods to control the insect, although its short-term efficacy does not reach the level of a chemical in case of heavy infestation. However, if a balance is maintained, risks are theoretically pretty low. A well-run monitoring should allow maintaining the population controlled.
It also happens that administrative decisions are arbitrary, unfair, or too reductive, as explained in the petition.
In this context, the petition seems to be consistent.
Then comes a paragraph that says "But most importantly, it is preserving biodiversity we best fight against leafhopper, because it’s an insect that is appreciated by many predators in the nature." Until there, no problem, I completely agree, and it is a principle that I apply daily in the orchards, to leafhoppers and most pest problems.
But the paragraph follows in a way that I don’t like so much. It says: " The problem is that these predators, spiders, praying mantis and certain types of bugs have been eradicated in the non-organic vineyards, where wildlife is devastated by insecticides". Yes, yes, yes! Here we go. A bit of proselytizing, a few lies and done! It is completely false. What has been a truth until the 80s, admittedly, is not true any more, today. But this argument henceforth false, is still a very effective weapon to mobilize crowds who do not know anything about it and are influenced because they are not given the necessary information.
I am doing a production in conventional agriculture, but it’s what I call the Third Way, that is integrated production. I am preparing a series of 3 posts about production methods, in which I will explain in details the issue. But in short, spending chemicals whenever necessary, both pesticides and fertilizers. I don’t sack special pride, but neither gives me shame. Each use is justified, never abusive, always carefully studied, looking for the ideal balance between resolution of the problem to solve, and respecting the general equilibrium of the crop.
I am happy and proud to observe daily on the farms I care, varied fauna of the Guadalquivir banks, such as hares, rabbits, partridges, bee-eaters, storks, parrots, raptors (kestrels, kites, circaetes, ospreys, owls, and so on), wild turtles, otters, mongooses, genets, foxes, snakes (non exhaustive list) and many beneficial insects such as spiders, certain types of predatory bugs (Anthocoris and orius), praying mantises, lacewings, syrphid flies and more, that, contrary to what is written in the petition have not been eradicated in orchards, here or elsewhere, nor in the vineyards or veghetable fields. However, if one believes the petition, the farms I care should be a type of large arid desert and lifeless, after more than 40 years of fruit crops on the same plots, using chemicals.
As you might imagine, then I suspected a large lack of objectivity, and I decided to look for more information. I came across a web page that is curiously co-signed by many official and private organizations, including the SEDARB (Agrobiological and Rural EcoDeveloppement Service of Burgundy) and publishes the results of checks, trappings, evolution of insect populations, and recommendations for action (chemical or biological) in the aim of keeping the insect populations to a safe level. Among posted on this web page text, we find the following: "The insecticide is an absolutely necessary measure this year because of the risk of spread of the disease in the region. There is, for now, no other alternative. "
Therefore, it appears clear to me that the administration, in this case, is perfectly acting, the phytosanitary situation is indeed worrying and warrants outstanding shares.
On the other hand, there are, in Burgundy as elsewhere, many growers in organic or biodynamic production, whose vineyards are located in areas where the obligation to treat has been imposed. They are not threatened with trial and prison. Why? Because they understood the importance of this treatment, because they know that temporarily break their convictions is not the, and they were smart enough to accept, probably reluctantly, to comply with this measure of general interest.
And I understand that this farmer is actually an extremist who prefers jeopardize an entire region rather than question his convictions. In other situations and in other places, he could be called Taliban, and nobody would have signed a petition to defend the indefensible. I understand he has trouble accepting of having to spray. Nevertheless there are effective technical means to spray with a biological insecticide with minimal impact on beneficial insects and the environment. One example is to spray by night, while the majority of beneficial insects are hidden in their natural refuges and bees in hives.
The leafhopper lives on the crop, and does not hide at night. It is also sensitive by night than during the day. This technique is usually used in all hot regions, like here in Andalusia, or as it is also the case in my previous area of residence, Provence.
At sunrise, the product will be dry, sprying fog will be gone, the risks will be very low, and environmental impacts will have been minimized.
Of course, it's never completely safe, but the risks of the disease are much more short, medium and long term.
The French magazine L'Express recently published on its web page, the following article on the same subject, much more moderate than the petition:
Many newspapers have written on the subject with more or less caution.
Let's be clear, maintain biodiversity and balances on a farm is an obligation for any farmer a little bit smart and conscientious. Even if he has no ecologist convictions, it is a simple matter of logic and economics. But it may not be sufficient to control everything. For example, you can not blame the ancient Egyptians for abusing pesticides, since they did not have. Yet the ravages of swarms of locusts were periodic. Insects and diseases, whatever they are, sometimes find particularly favorable conditions yhat cause them population explosion. This is what happened in 2012-2013 for the leafhopper vector of the disease. Such a population explosion, although natural, causes a rupture of equilibrium. In this case, the predator population is found brutally understaffed in relation to its prey, and natural control is not enough. If the insect causes damage only on crop, the damage will be higher this year and the income of the farmer below. It does not go away, unless the insect is a vector of disease, because this causes a serious risk of survival of the crop. In the case of a vineyard such as Burgundy, all the human activity in the region is jeopardized.
The spraying intervention is essential to reduce the population of leafhoppe, without removing predators in order to return to equilibrium. Once the balance is restored, you can resume the previous method.
The farmer was not asked to question his method, he was asked only to bend it, on the basis of a biological insecticide, to avoid a much more serious risk.
Finally and in conclusion, this disease has been present from the 40s in France (South West and Languedoc -Roussillon) and Italy (Northern half of the country). Until the early 2000s, it was relatively controlled through systematic uprooting of infested plots and preventive and prophylactic appropriate actions and sprayings. However, over the last ten years, and despite all these efforts, the disease began to rise again, going north in most French vineyards, appearing also in Austria, Switzerland, Portugal and Spain (Catalonia). This shows that we should not take things lightly, and what said this farmer is unfounded: 40 years of practice of organic and biodynamic agriculture in Burgundy never put him in front of dangerous levels of population of this insect. He therefore has no experience that allows him to affirm that he is able to control it with all techniques which he speaks. And the risk of contamination is not hypothetical but real, as it took snatch several parcels of vines between 2012 and 2013 in the region.
The petition on the web page has been changed by oral explanations given by the farmer himself. Both in the written petition and in this second version, the farmer lies or gives incomplete information, but with a very convincing tone. I am sorry to say to those who have signed this petition: you were screwed. Of what is said on the internet beware, this is not always the truth.