European Environment Agency (EEA)

Possibilities for Future EC Environmental Policy on Plant Protection Products


Courtesy of Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)


This report presents the results of a study to examine and evaluate the economic, environmental and social benefits of plant protection products (PPPs) in agriculture with the main emphasis on the economic aspects. The approach followed was to carry out four case studies - each covering a single crop in a specific region of major production-comparing standard, integrated and organic production systems. The four crop/region case studies selected were: apples (Trentino-Adige, Italy), ware potatoes (Flevoland, Netherlands), wheat (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany) and wine (Bordeaux, France).

The study had four main phases: initial background “desk” research, local “field” research for each case study, followed by analysis of the information collected and preparation of a draft report. The draft report was then circulated to both members of the steering committee and a number of other experts, and the comments received were taken into account in the preparation of the a revised draft report. Further comments on the revised version have been noted in the preparation of this final report. In the initial phase every effort was made to locate and use relevant previous research and to consult with organisations interested in, and able to contribute to the project. Details of the research team are given in Chapter 1. At Annex 1 there is a list of the organisations and individuals consulted, and at Annex 2 there is a full bibliography.

In order to evaluate the benefits of PPPs we have had to consider what the hypothetical position would be, chiefly in economic but also in environmental and social terms, if no PPPs were used. The chief parameters have been crop yields and revenues, production costs, the extent of use of PPPs, land use, energy and labour requirements. The central assumption of the analysis is that the benefits of PPPs can be deduced from a comparison between the performance of production systems using different levels of PPPs: standard, integrated and organic systems.

In our proposals we recognised that the four case studies divide into two pairs. The first pair are apples and wine, both the product of perennial crops; with these a change of system does not have any crop rotational implications and they can each be assessed on their own. The second pair are potatoes and wheat, and with these a change of system (especially to organic) has major rotational and wider farm management implications so that the effects of a systems change has to be considered across the rotation as a whole. This means we need to evaluate the costs and returns for the whole rotation (which may include forage crops for livestock). So the case studies for potatoes and wheat examine these crops both on their own and as components in a complete rotation.

Important limitations of the case study approach became evident. The first is the practical difficulty (and indeed unrealism) of attempting to disaggregate the contributions of fertilisers and of PPPs to the performance of standard and integrated systems. These two categories of chemical inputs are usually complementary and synergistic. To achieve the full benefits of each, both generally need to be used. In attributing to PPPs the full gains of a system which uses them over one that does not there is considerable exaggeration of the specific benefits, but any effort to discount these would be arbitrary and artificial.

The second limitation is more contentious: the uncertainty of what would happen to the prices of organic products if the organic system ever became the mainstream (or even a significant) form of production. At the present time organic products fill a small market niche, mostly selling at a large premium over the prices for standard and integrated products. The report presents some (but by no means conclusive) evidence that in these extremely unlikely hypothetical circumstances the organic premiums would rapidly fall away, though it is unlikely that they would disappear altogether. At the same time the changes in product supply would influence the overall price level. In each case study we have made assumptions about likely organic prices at different levels of market share; different but not necessarily unreasonable assumptions would reduce or increase the benefits of PPPs, but not sufficiently to change the main conclusions.

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