Reveal the impact of 70 years of pesticide use on European soils

Pesticides have been used in European agriculture for over 70 years, so it is necessary to monitor their presence, levels and effects on the quality and services of European soils to establish protocols for the use and approval of new plant protection products.

To try to solve this problem, a team led by prof. Dr Violette Geissen from the University of Wageningen (The Netherlands) analyzed 340 soil samples from three European countries to compare the content of the distribution of pesticide cocktails in soils under organic farming practices and soils under conventional practices. This study was a combined effort of 3 EC funded projects dealing with soil quality: RECARE (http: // www.recare-project.EU /), iSQAPER (http: // www.isqaper-project.EU) and DIVERFARMING.

Soil samples were taken from two case study sites in Spain, 1 case study site in Portugal and 1 case study site in the Netherlands; which covered four of the main European crops: horticultural products and oranges (in Spain), grapes (in Portugal) and potato production (in the Netherlands). Chemical analyzes revealed that the total pesticide content in conventional soils was 70% to 90% higher than in organic soils, although the latter also contain pesticide residues.

Although in 70% of conventional soils mixtures containing up to 16 residues were detected per sample, only a maximum of five different residues were found in organic soils. the residues most frequently found and in greatest quantity were the herbicides Glyphosate and Pendimethalin. The samples were collected between 2015 and 2018, as no major changes have taken place in terms of management, it is indicative of the current and probable situation of other agricultural areas in the EU. ”

Once the presence of these cocktails of pesticides has been revealed in European agricultural soils, it becomes necessary to better understand the effects of these complex and cumulative mixtures on soil health, an area in which there is currently a major lack of information.

The research team insisted on the need to define and introduce regulations and benchmarks on pesticide cocktails in soils in order to protect soil biodiversity and the quality of crop production. In addition, given the persistence of residues in organic soils, it is necessary to reconsider the time required for the transition from conventional agriculture to organic agriculture, making it dependent on the mixing of residues in the soil at the point starting point and the time they take to degrade.


Diverfarming is a project funded by the Horizon 2020 program of the European Commission, within the framework of the challenge “Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine, maritime and inland water research and bioeconomy” under agreement 728003, and which relies on the participation of the Universities of Cartagena and Cordoba (Spain), Tuscia (Italy), Exeter and Portsmouth (United Kingdom), Wageningen (Netherlands), Trier (Germany), Pecs (Hungary) and ETH Zurich (Switzerland), the research centers Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e analisi dell’economia agraria (Italy), the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spain) and the Institute of Natural Resources LUKE (Finland), the agrarian organization ASAJA and the companies Casalasco and Barilla (Italy), Arento, LogísticaDFM and Industrias David (Spain), Nieuw Bromo Van Tilburg and Ekoboerdeij de Lingehof (Netherlands), Weingut Dr. Frey (Germany), Nedel-Market KFT and Gere (Hungary) and Paavolan Kotijuustola and Polven Juustola (Finland).

Geissen, Violette & Silva, Vera & Huerta, E. & Beriot, Nicolas & Oostindie, Klaas & Bin, Zhaoqi & Pyne, Erin & Busink, Sjors & Zomer, Paul & Mol, H. & Ritsema, Coen. (2021). Cocktails of pesticide residues in conventional and organic farming systems in Europe – A legacy from the past and a turning point for the future. Environmental pollution. 278. 116827. 10.1016 / j.envpol.2021.116827

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