NOVATERRA FINAL CONFERENCE – PRESS RELEASE: NOVATERRA moves towards the reduction of Plant Protection Products in vineyards and olive groves

  • A consortium of 23 international organisations has been researching, over the last four years, how to use more sustainable solutions without losing yield and quality.
  • Trials have been carried out in five countries with an integrated approach combining the use of bio-based products with precision farming and improved soil management.
  • The results were presented to more than eighty people, including farmers who plan to implement these strategies in their future campaigns.

In recent decades, synthetic pesticides have made it possible for many crops, both conventional and organic, to be viable because they eliminate pests. However, they can pose risks to human health and biodiversity. Therefore, Europe has long been moving towards replacing these products with more natural and sustainable alternatives.

23 organisations from 6 countries have worked, under the coordination of the Institute of Agri-Food Research and Technology (IRTA), on the NOVATERRA project, investigating how to combine different strategies to reduce the use of Plant Protection Products (PPP) in vineyards and olive groves. For its implementation, the project has had a budget of more than 5.5 million euros, of which 4.8 million came from a grant from the European Commission through the Horizon2020 programme (GA 101000554).

NOVATERRA has included trials on farms in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece. “First, we tested the different strategies separately. Then, over the last year, we have chosen a few farms on which to integrate these strategies. And it has been shown that it is feasible to reduce the use of PPP from a holistic point of view“. This is explained by Luis Asín, head of the Fruit Growing programme at IRTA.

After four years of work, NOVATERRA is coming to an end and has celebrated it in a two-day event, in which the main results obtained have been presented. These results show that, by integrating the use of natural products with precision technologies and better soil management, the use of synthetic pesticides can be significantly reduced without losing yield or quality.

The event, which brought together more than 80 professionals from the wine and olive sector, was held at IRTA’s facilities in Caldes de Montbui, as well as at an experimental farm in the Agrópolis community space and at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC).

In search of alternative products

The strategies studied by NOVATERRA can be divided into three areas. The first is the use of alternative products to synthetic pesticides. This is the case of the so-called biopesticides and biocontrol agents, organisms that compete against those that cause pests or diseases. Also, formulations based on copper or sulphur nanoparticles, a fairly recent fungicide technology that is very efficient due to its microscopic size, have been evaluated. Another example is microplastic-free, degradable pheromones, which are used to sexually confuse pest-causing insects and thus prevent males from finding females to reproduce. Finally, mass trapping has been tried, using traps that attract pests.

Precision Agriculture

The second area of action of NOVATERRA has been that of precision agriculture. Spraying equipment and agricultural machinery has been tested that applies the PPP only where there is a crop, avoiding pouring it into empty spaces and adapting to the volume of the plant. Researchers have also evaluated an intelligent vision system that, through sensors installed on tractors or other machinery, detects the presence of early symptoms caused by pests or diseases. These and other precision technologies aim to significantly reduce the use of pesticides.

Better soil management

Applying natural products and using precision technologies is easier if the soil is well prepared. This is the third strategy that NOVATERRA has examined. Thus, the use of ecological infrastructures has been studied: areas near or inside the planting row where plants are grown that are a refuge for the natural enemies of the organisms that cause pests. The use of a robot that contributes to weed control to improve diversity and save water has also been tested.

The combination of new management strategies, new technologies and alternative products is proving to be the optimal way to reduce the use of chemical pesticides. Although Europe has taken a step backwards this year caused by the pressure from farmers, the future of the agri-food sector lies in optimising the application of synthetic pesticides, optimising the use of water, fertilisers and energy.

In this sense, the European NOVATERRA project has taken a step forward, paving the way towards a future marked by greater economic, environmental and social sustainability.