Friesch Dagblad - 19 december 2020: “The memory of what happened in the past. That's what Violette Geissen (57), professor of soil degradation and land management at Wageningen University & Research, calls the soil. And that memory reveals staggering facts. Research on European agricultural land shows that 83 percent of soil samples contain pesticides, usually a cocktail of different agents. Resources were also believed to degrade quickly, were recovered years later.

Farmers who use the resources adhere to the law. Before pesticides come onto the market, they are tested. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and in the Netherlands the Board for the Authorization of Plant Protection Products and Biocides (Ctbg) then determine the conditions for use.


violette krant friesch dagblad

Violette Geissen in the courtyard of the Gaia building.
Foto credits: Sjef Prins - Friesch Dagblad

In France, Parkinson's disease, which is very common among winegrowers, has already been classified as an occupational disease. It would be a result of the pesticides used in winegrowing. But evidence of a direct link is lacking. Geissen and other European researchers will be working on this for the next five years. And not only to this connection. During the research project, samples are collected and studied in ten European countries. This is not just about the soil, the entire ecosystem is sampled. In addition to residues of pesticides in the ground, it is also examined how those pesticides spread during spraying; how many remains of it can be found in the most cultivated crops. “We want to know what influence these resources have on the resilience of the ecosystem and humans. We are also investigating the effects on the reproduction and disease of earthworms and insects. ”

A group of farmers from Groningen is participating for the Netherlands. According to Geissen, a nicely mixed group of both conventional and organic farmers, especially growers of potatoes, although livestock farmers also participate.

A new pesticide policy
The SPRINT research mainly takes place on a laboratory scale. The research must contribute to the European pesticide policy. “Now it lingers in a discussion between supporters and opponents of pesticides. We all see that there is something going on in terms of biodiversity. Just look at the enormous decrease in the number of insects. But not everyone believes that this is due to pesticides. Our research must put an end to that discussion, lay a foundation that no one can ignore and that can become the starting point for new European pesticide policy. ”


Liechtenstein and Switzerland
According to Geissen, the Netherlands can learn from countries such as Liechtenstein and Switzerland for a more sensible agricultural policy. “Major steps have been taken in Switzerland towards a more robust agriculture. For example, they have a mixed cultivation of peas with wheat, which naturally lowers the risk of plant disease. After harvesting, peas and grain are separated with a sieve. We don't know that sieve in the Netherlands, so mixed cultivation is not possible. ”

The government must take matters into their own hands. “Pointing to the farmers as poisoners is not justified. They have to survive in the current market. And the resources they use are legal. Farmers I speak to are also concerned about the condition of the soil. Many farmers would like to switch to a more sustainable form of agriculture, but do not know how that will turn out financially. Often they also do not know how to switch. A drastic reduction in pesticide use is one thing, but the choice of seed is also important. Types with resistance and resilience are preferred. ”


A quarter less harvest 
Geissen does not dare to say whether there will ever be a completely pesticide-free agriculture. “According to the Louis Bolk Institute it is possible, although according to international studies it means a quarter less harvest. But when you consider that we throw away thirty percent of the food produced, that in itself should not be a problem. Treating food with care seems to me to be more important than focusing on the highest possible production. Moreover, organic agriculture ensures a more resilient ecosystem that is ultimately more resistant to drought caused by the climate crisis, disease and pests. ” The rise of robotics in agriculture also gives her hope. "With hoeing machines you no longer have to spray the weeds." Consumers also have to pay a price for healthy agriculture. “The average Dutch person spends about ten percent of his income on food. This is very little compared to other countries. But we do fly to the sun five times a year. We seem to prefer to go on vacation often than pay a higher price for food that is grown sustainably. ”


Read more at the website of Friesch Dagblad (Dutch)