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The challenge

Control agricultural weeds, pests and diseases while maximising profitability, ensuring safety, and minimising environmental impacts.

Agricultural and veterinary chemicals are used globally to control weeds, pests and diseases in crops and animals at various stages of production, storage and export. A significant threat to economically and environmentally sustainable control is that target agripests become resistant to the chemicals used to try and manage them. The challenge of resistance occurs worldwide. Using a combination of practices and management strategies to prevent problems from occurring and reduce the need for chemical use can slow the spread of resistance. In turn, this practise helps preserve essential products for when they are the only option for control. 

Additionally, despite chemicals improving agricultural productivity and animal welfare, their use faces questions. Key concerns are for the safety of food and fibre products, the potential health impacts of chemicals on workers and their communities, and environmental damage to land, water, flora and fauna. Some chemicals used in Australia are banned or highly regulated overseas, which can restrict export markets and jeopardise their longer-term registration. Market forces are also limiting the production of new chemicals.

These issues are relevant outside of agriculture. For instance, chemicals are used sporadically to respond to emergency outbreaks such as plague locust control and fighting incursions of exotic species such as fire ants. They are also used to control parasites in family pets, pests and diseases in backyard orchards or weeds in parks and gardens. While the amounts of chemicals used in these situations are relatively small, the total numbers of users can be massive, and many of the same pests, weeds and diseases are targeted in broad-scale agriculture which can increase the overall threat of resistance.

In Australia, the use of agricultural chemicals such as insecticides, miticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics and anthelmintics has doubled since 1992 to over 50,000 tonnes each year, costing around $3.7 billion. To support resilience in pest, weed and disease control and address social license concerns, there is a clear case to modify how chemicals are used in the coming years.

Our response

A national conversation to map profitable agri-food and fibre systems with lowered chemical inputs.

For over a decade pest, weed and disease control scientists researched how to optimise the use of chemicals whilst minimising costs, and developed alternatives including genetically resistant crops and livestock, biological products, vaccines, and specific tactics for production that reduce the chances of infestation. However, despite opportunities and some success via Integrated Pest/Weed/Disease Management (IPM), there continues to be an over-reliance on chemicals throughout much of agriculture.

CSIRO is leading a national conversation with agricultural industries, government departments, financial services, non-governmental organisations, farm input manufacturers and resellers, processors, exporters, retailers and consumers. We aim to build a collaboration platform and trust for an ongoing dialogue about the sustainable and safe use of chemicals based on regular analysis of current patterns, trends and impacts.

Unified outputs could include national frameworks for assessing the risks of specific controls and collecting and sharing relevant data across the supply chain, as well as agreed nation-wide procedures for monitoring the use of agripest chemicals and other agricultural practices, and metrics for measuring environmental and human health impacts and product safety. By automating compliance audits and tracing the use of chemicals the sustainability credentials of produce could be made more transparent to consumers.

In partnership with agricultural industries, CSIRO is helping to quantify risks around specific use case scenarios and develop frameworks for prioritising and co-innovating solutions throughout supply chains. This can include, for instance, working in partnership with input manufacturers and resellers, and will deliver new research to expand the range of validated technologies, products and IPM services for sustainable control.

The results

How can you help?

We are seeking perspectives from throughout the agricultural supply chain to understand how our current vision aligns with real-world wants and needs.

We are also interested in developing partnerships across the supply chain to explore which agripest chemical use cases should be prioritised for proactively exploring viable alternatives.

Please contact us if you have an interest in being part of this national conversation.

Contact us

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