New Zealand farmers are containing their use of pesticides but still managing to drive the country’s agricultural productivity level higher and increase export earnings.
In fact, a team of researchers at the government’s HortResearch institute found, in many sectors farmers have made significant reductions in the use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
One of their study's key findings was that while New Zealand has experienced a modest increase in pesticide use it was at levels far below the corresponding rise in agricultural export receipts.
Nationwide pesticide sales increased by 11 percent for the 10-year period between 1994 and 2003, while primary industry earnings rose 48 percent.
In total, New Zealand imported pesticides worth US$72 million during 2003 - a figure equal to about 1 percent of New Zealand's US$8 billion agricultural exports in that year.
The report shows that pesticide imports slowed in the late 1990s as many primary industry players began to implement use reduction programs and to replace broad-spectrum pesticides with newer, more benign products.
"Certainly there have been a number of success stories where industry-driven sustainability programmes have had a dramatic impact on reducing pesticide use," said report co-author Jim Walker. “This trend is most clearly demonstrated in the horticulture sector, where sustainability initiatives are well established.”
Horticulture is the largest user of fungicides and insecticides, while herbicide use is dominated by the pastoral and forestry sectors.
The report said the trend toward increased organic production is also playing a part in keeping pesticide use in check, and in encouraging the use of "softer" chemicals and biological insecticides.
Now, Walker said, attention should be given to examining the use of pesticides in urban residential environments.
"Taken in context, New Zealand primary producers have come a long way from some of the agricultural use patterns of the past,” he said. “The majority of industries we surveyed were actively involved in developing and promoting sustainable production programs, which usually featured risk reduction strategies.
"However, there remains a real lack of data on domestic and urban agrichemical uses and their implications. It is easy to point the finger at rural industry, but anecdotal evidence from overseas suggests domestic users can be a significant contributor to overall pesticide use."