Farmers Warn Pesticide Ban Jeopardizes Italy's Olive Oil Production

While the prohibition on dimethoate-based pesticides was delayed until October, farmers and their supporters argue that no alternative treatments are available in time for the 2020 harvest.
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jul. 21, 2020 07:52 UTC

A European Union-wide ban on one of the most effec­tive chem­i­cal treat­ments that farm­ers have against the olive fruit fly will come into force at the end of October.

The pro­hi­bi­tion on dimethoate-based pes­ti­cides was orig­i­nally set to start at the end of July, but has been delayed in Italy as a result of an excep­tional autho­riza­tion requested by Coldiretti, the Italian farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion, back in April.

The dimethoate ban forces farm­ers to change their approach to the olive grove defense. They have to move from heal­ing strate­gies to pre­ven­tive strate­gies.- Elisabetta Gargani, researcher, CREA

In spite of the exten­sion, mem­bers of the Italian Confederation of Farmers (CIA) said that the next har­vest­ing sea­son could prove dis­as­trous for olive oil pro­duc­ers and farm­ers as a result of the ban.

The incom­ing ban on dimethoate is already hit­ting olive farm­ers in our ter­ri­tory because they have no viable alter­na­tive at their dis­posal,” Lapo Baldini, head of CIA Tuscany, said.

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Even with three months to go until the pro­hi­bi­tion comes into force, Baldini believes there will be a scarcity of the prod­uct on store shelves. He added that no viable alter­na­tives have been pro­vided to farm­ers to pro­tect their crops.

The ovi­ci­dal prod­ucts, whose effec­tive­ness is yet to be under­stood, raise sev­eral dif­fi­cul­ties in their deploy­ment when com­pared to the large spec­trum activ­ity of the lar­vi­cide dimethoate,” Baldini said.

In a press release, CIA farm­ers stressed how the long-expected European-wide ban on those prod­ucts has been imple­mented with no alter­na­tive strat­egy being set.

Copper, kaolin and fungi­cides are deter­rents to the olive fruit fly but, as we have already observed, they do not solve the prob­lem in case of mas­sive infec­tions by the fly”, Baldini said.

The prob­lem has become cycli­cal, an annual infec­tion not only for the coastal areas of Tuscany but also for the most inlands olive-grow­ing regions,” he added. Alternatives should have been found before the ban. The result will be higher costs for the farm­ers and solu­tions not effec­tive enough.”

While intro­duced by the European Commission in June 2019, the ban on dimethoate did not come as a sur­prise. The deci­sion was based on the already known con­clu­sions of the European Food Safety Authority, whose experts had deter­mined the pos­si­ble risks for the envi­ron­ment and human health as a result of the geno­toxic poten­tial of the pes­ti­cide and car­cino­genic char­ac­ter­is­tics of one of its main ingre­di­ents, omethoate.

While no one is argu­ing about the effi­cacy of dimethoate against the olive fruit fly, some researchers said that now is the time to rein­vent how farm­ers cope with the pest and pro­tect their crops.

The dimethoate ban forces farm­ers to change their approach to the olive grove defense,” Elisabetta Gargani, a researcher at the CREA, the pub­lic insti­tu­tion ded­i­cated to agri­cul­tural research, told Agronotizie.

They have to move from heal­ing strate­gies to pre­ven­tive strate­gies. In this new sce­nario, the mon­i­tor­ing of the trees and the tra­di­tion­ally organic strate­gies will play a major role,” she added.

Some small and organic farm­ers in the region have effec­tively imple­mented mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems and organic strate­gies into their groves already.

We chose to wholly con­vert to organic pro­ce­dures,” Gianluca Damiani, a small olive grower in Tuscany, told Olive Oil Times. In the past we had ran­domly used dimethoate-based prod­ucts on our trees and it cer­tainly helped con­tain the olive fruit fly infec­tion.”

But we have just a small local pro­duc­tion, we can live with­out it because we can have a deep mon­i­tor­ing of the fly pop­u­la­tion over time,” he added. I can under­stand that those who have larger busi­nesses might have to invest in new pro­ce­dures, and maybe get used to smaller yields.”


However, Coldiretti has backed the CIA in crit­i­ciz­ing the ban, also empha­siz­ing that no real alter­na­tives to dimethoate-based prod­ucts are avail­able on the mar­ket. Looking ahead to the 2020 har­vest, the asso­ci­a­tion argues that there are no viable new pre­ven­tion mea­sures avail­able for farm­ers to use.

The olive fruit fly is con­sid­ered the most rel­e­vant pest for olive trees, so wide­spread that it can severely impact on quan­ti­ties and qual­i­ties of the pro­duc­tion in most areas,” Coldiretti said. Scientific research has not yet deter­mined a strat­egy able to con­trol the fly, an insect that due to cli­mate change has become even more pro­lific.”

Prior to the ban, dimethoate-based pes­ti­cides could be applied to crops through­out the grow­ing sea­son, when­ever evi­dence of an olive fruit fly infes­ta­tion became appar­ent.

However, alter­na­tive strate­gies will require the early mon­i­tor­ing of the fruit fly pop­u­la­tion, from the spring­time onwards, to under­stand how the pop­u­la­tion has sur­vived the win­ter and what kind of impact it may have on the upcom­ing sea­son.

The dimethoate ban will also require local farm­ers, gov­ern­ments and agri­cul­tural orga­ni­za­tions to take a dif­fer­ent approach when it comes to land man­age­ment, as aban­doned olive groves can play a major role in the early repro­duc­tion of the fly.

Nevertheless, the CIA has said that while stud­ies are ongo­ing and com­pre­hen­sive strate­gies are not yet in place, the eco­nomic impact of the dam­age caused by the olive fruit may lead to dif­fi­cult choices.

The con­fed­er­a­tion said it could lead to newly aban­doned olive orchards in sev­eral areas with new chal­lenges for the remain­ing busi­nesses as well as for the land­scape and the main­te­nance of the ter­ri­tory.”


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