Best Practice Information Sheets (Westcountry Rivers Trust)

Pest management

Best Practice
Information Sheet

Alternative crop protection

IS 2.6.1

Why change?

Crop protection using an integrated range of chemical, biological and cultural measures offers a balanced, cost-effective and long-term approach to pest management. By aiming to prevent and control pests and encourage predators, you could benefit from:

  • reduced risk of pollution, legal costs fines and negative publicity
  • increased acceptability of produce
  • reduced costs of inputs
  • increased wildlife diversity.

Steps to success

  1. Review the current situation by examining your approach to pest management. As a first step, consider the effectiveness of your chemical control strategy and use of biological and cultural measures.
  2. Identify potential opportunities for adopting an alternative approach to pest management on your farm. Consider the potential for integrating a more targeted approach to pesticide use alongside pest prevention and biological control measures.
  3. Calculate the cost-benefit of these opportunities by considering the costs of introducing measures such as buffer zones and low-drift spray nozzles, versus savings including reduced pesticide inputs and pollution risk.
  4. Develop an action plan for alternative pest management on your farm by integrating three approaches:

Aim to prevent pests by using techniques such as crop rotation, variety selection and cultural measures. For example:

    • use a crop rotation suitable for your farm that allows a break of 2-5 years between the same type of crop in a field. Include grass leys where possible to improve soil fertility
    • select crop varieties with a high natural resistance or tolerance based on assessment of the disease risk, and the cropping history on your farm
    • reduce the weed seed bank and the need for in-crop treatments by developing a stale seedbed to encourage weeds and volunteers to germinate. Remove them before sowing
    • drill crops later to reduce weed competition, aphid attack and take-all risk but ensuring good crop establishment and avoiding the risk of soil damage and erosion on wet, heavy and erosion-prone land.

Aim to protect crops by careful targeting of chemical inputs to maximise pesticide effectiveness and minimise costs. For example:

    • recognise the potential risks of pesticides to humans, wildlife and the environment, and apply only where necessary. Monitor pest populations and crop health to target pesticide use
    • use the right pesticide at the right time and at the right dose
    • identify and avoid no-spray zones such as watercourses, beetle banks, hedgerows, buffer zones and woodlands.

Aim to encourage crop pest predators by improving habitats for beneficial insects and birds on your farm. For example:

    • introduce and manage habitats such as beetle banks, conservation headlands, buffer zones, hedgerows and woodlands
    • aim to include tussocky grass and native wildflowers in buffer zones and beetle banks
    • investigate the availability of grants for introducing habitats. The creation of buffer zones, conservation headlands and beetle banks attracts points under ELS/HLS Environmental Stewardship Schemes.


Best Farming Practices: Profit from Change

Practical examples

Reduce chemical sprays and save money

Research into the Less Intensive Farming and the Environment (LIFE) principle at Long Ashton Research Station near Bristol has compared the pesticide costs associated with conventional farming systems, with those that adopted an integrated approach to crop protection.

Integrated protection of crops, using crop rotation and alternating cereals with broad-leaved break crops, reduced pest and disease carry-over from crop to crop. Grass weed control in break-crops and broad-leaved weed control in cereals reduced dependency on potentially polluting herbicides (Isoproturon by 73%).

This allowed more careful use of autumn herbicides and reduced the cost of weed control. Using spring-sown crops gave flexibility for mechanical weed control (stale seedbeds). Cereals sown in early October reduced the need for autumn pesticides.

  • The average annual pesticide costs for conventional systems have been calculated at £102/ha.
  • The average annual pesticide costs for integrated crop protection have been calculated at £62/ha.
  • The overall average annual saving for reduced reliance on chemical sprays associated with an integrated approach to crop protection is therefore estimated to be £40/ha.
  • This included reductions in pesticide and applications of fungicides saving £27/ha, herbicides £8/ha and insecticides £5/ha.
  • It resulted in a payback of less than one year, bringing other benefits to wildlife and a reduced risk of pollution. 

Buffer zones and beetle banks help protect watercourses and encourage reservoirs of pest predators



Disclaimer - Whilst the Westcountry Rivers Trust, its servants and agents (the "Trust") will use its reasonable endeavours to ensure the accuracy of its work, its advice involves matters relating to the natural environment or matters outside its reasonable control. Accordingly, other than personal injury or death arising from its negligence, the Trust will not be liable for any loss or damage howsoever arising directly or indirectly from any act, omission, neglect or default on its part. Funding for updating these information sheets was provided by the Water Quality Division of Defra as part of its England Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative. These sheets provide practical information, guidance and recommendations for farmers based on Trust experience. © Westcountry rivers trust, 2007.


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