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EU Pushes for Sustainable Agriculture, Polish Fruit Growers Collaborate

FOOD & AGRICULTUREEU Pushes for Sustainable Agriculture, Polish Fruit Growers Collaborate

Consumer interest in healthy food is growing. For 57 percent of Poles, it is important that fruits do not contain residues of plant protection products and pesticides – according to a study by Indicator carried out for the Association of Polish Fruit Growers. This also changes the approach of farmers and fruit growers to production. The transition from agriculture based on the use of large amounts of artificial fertilizers is aided by the application of new systems: integrated production, organic and “zero residue” system. “Sustainable fruit production is a necessity,” confirms Prof. Joanna Puławska from the Institute of Horticulture – National Research Institute in Skierniewice.

“Based on current market trends, but also requirements related to conditions presented by the European Commission, there is an urgent need to conduct fruit production using sustainable methods. We need to analyze, observe what is happening in nature, how diseases, pests develop, what requirements the soil has, and apply as many natural practices and as few artificial means as possible,” underscores Mirosław Maliszewski, President of the Association of Polish Fruit Growers, in a conversation with the Newseria Biznes agency.

The European Green Deal Strategy introduces many changes for agriculture. It proposes, among other things, to increase the share of organic farming to 25 percent of all crops in the EU by 2030. The use of chemical pesticides should be reduced by 50 percent, and artificial fertilizers by 20 percent. In Poland, the consumption of active substances per hectare is not high; in 2020 the average was 2.1 kg/ha, which is below the EU average (about 3 kg/ha).

“Sustainable production is not difficult and is feasible to implement. I am deeply convinced that it will also be financially appreciated by consumers, the final recipients of our products,” assesses Mirosław Maliszewski.

A study by the Indicator Center for Marketing Research, conducted as part of the campaign “Time for Sustainable Fruit Production”, indicates that according to 81 percent of fruit growers, 80 percent of traders and 70 percent of individual respondents, sustainable fruit production guarantees better profits and is more environmentally friendly for agricultural production. An overwhelming majority (91 perc. of fruit growers, 84 perc. of traders, and 80 perc. of individuals) believe that fruits from integrated production are safe, tasty, and valuable.

“Sustainable fruit production is definitely a necessity because we have to care for our planet, including how we produce fruits. Additionally, consumers are becoming more and more aware, they want to eat healthy, safe fruits for themselves, produced in a way that does not harm the natural environment”, convinces Prof. Joanna Puławska, head of the Plant Protection Department in the Institute of Horticulture – National Research Institute in Skierniewice.

“Consumers, especially after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, expect 100% safe products without exceeding the residues of plant protection products,” adds Dawid Królikowski, a fruit grower who operates an integrated production farm in Błędów, in the Grójec district.

For more than half of Poles (57 percent), it is important that fruits from sustainable production do not contain residues of plant protection products and have high quality values (55 percent).

At present, fruit growers can use one of three types of sustainable production: IP – integrated production method, “zero residues”, and organic production.

“In the first two systems, non-chemical methods are a priority. Chemical ones can only be used when there is a justified need. In the “zero residues” system, chemical methods can be used only up to a certain phase of plant development, so that in the fruits that are already traveling to consumers, there are no pesticide residues. In organic production, artificial chemistry is not used at all, only natural substances and natural methods,” explains Prof. Joanna Puławska.

The number of farmers interested in conducting crops in the IP system is increasing, largely due to subsidies. For the implementation of the agri-environmental scheme, they can receive a subsidy of €249/ha. In this system, chemical plant protection products are replaced by biological methods or plant-based and mechanical action, such as vegetable oils.

“Integrated production has many benefits, including the increase in the activity of beneficial organisms, limitation of a certain number of treatments, of course, respect for the natural environment, the possibility of production certification, thanks to which we can partly obtain higher prices for our products. In addition, the product is fully identifiable,” lists Dawid Królikowski.

“Achieving “zero residues” is not easy, but it is possible. In this system, for example, apples marked with the Amela sign are produced, in which there are no pesticide residues. However, this is not easy production, because all agricultural production depends on many factors that man has no influence on,” explains Prof. Joanna Puławska.

As experts assure, moving away from a large amount of fertilizer does not have to mean higher costs for farmers.

“Thanks to the conscious application of products, anticipating certain threats and continuous monitoring of pests and diseases, we can skip certain treatments that we previously did by the eye. And limiting a certain number of treatments brings us economic benefits,” assesses Dawid Królikowski.

The Association of Polish Fruit Growers has been running the information and education campaign “Time for Sustainable Fruit Production” for a year, aimed at Polish, but also German and Austrian fruit producers.

“The main goal of the campaign is to familiarize fruit growers with the possibilities of using integrated production methods, such as integrated fruit production, “zero residue” production or organic production. We want to show the benefits of these methods and the possibilities of their implementation with reasonable financial outlays. The campaign also aims to convince traders and consumers that it is worth reaching for products using these production methods,” says Mirosław Maliszewski.

An element of the campaign is a guidebook for fruit production in integrated production systems, zero residues and organic production, developed by a team of experts. It provides information on production, planting material, fertilization, plant protection treatments, and harvesting.

“Horticulture will have to co-create environmentally sustainable agriculture, without its chemical degradation. And these are not just the whims of EU officials, but they are the expectations of societies in most countries of the world. Therefore, if we want to sell to them, we have to meet their requirements. The times of competing only with the price and winning thanks to it are quickly passing. Cheaper production is and will be in Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, Moldova and in this respect we are doomed to failure. We can win with other parameters, internal features of fruits, including limited content of pesticides, zero residues production and even organic. This is the last call for fruit growers to understand this, and the last moment for introducing changes in our production. Read in the introduction to the guide.

Data from the expertise of the Institute of Horticulture – PIB in Skierniewice indicate that orchard crops in the Mazowieckie Voivodeship absorb over 460 thousand tons of carbon from the atmosphere during the year, which balances the emission of 1.3 million passenger cars per year. Orchards are therefore important for reducing the carbon footprint.

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