We are working to improve sustainability in 9 key areas. The fourth of these is pesticides: careful pesticide use that optimises crop production while having the smallest possible impact on people and the environment.
Why this is a priority?
Pesticides (including insecticides and herbicides) are used in agriculture to control crop losses from pests. Australian cotton growers use pesticides within an integrated approach, where a range of management decisions and resources are called on to reduce pest, weed and disease outbreaks and reduce reliance on herbicides and insecticides.
For growers, getting this integrated pest management approach right can help maintain profitability, reduce the risk of pesticide resistance and secondary pest outbreaks, preserve natural pest predators, and minimise risks to human health and the environment.
What is our ultimate goal?
The cotton industry’s goal is for pesticide use that supports optimal crop production while having no negative impact on human and environmental health.
What is the context behind the goal?
Pesticides (including insecticides and herbicides) are part of a cotton grower’s pest control toolbox called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a management approach to choose the tool that best controls pests with the least risk to human & environmental health. All pesticides in Australia are assessed by a government regulator: if a grower chooses a pesticide to control a specific pest, it is safe to use as directed by the label.
Over time, the amount of pesticides used in cotton production has changed. Australian cotton growers reduced insecticides by 95 per cent per hectare between 1993 and 2019 as GM cotton and IPM was introduced. In the period from 1994 to 2019, a move to less tillage to control weeds increased herbicide use by 20 per cent; however, less tillage has also increased soil carbon and moisture, and reduced fuel use.
Measuring pesticide volume is not a good indicator of environmental impact, because it doesn’t take into account the different toxicity of different pesticides. We measure environmental impact using Environmental Toxic Load (ETL), which has been created specifically to assess human health and environmental hazards associated with pesticides used in cotton. Our target is based on the ETL bees for insecticide hazard, and the ETL algae for herbicide hazard.
What is our draft target?
To reduce the environmental impact of pesticides by 5 per cent every five years.
This may not seem much, but the significant ETL reductions already achieved make it a real challenge. If new pests, unusually wet seasons (that lead to more pests) or other unexpected scenarios emerge, this target will be difficult to achieve.
What can growers do to further reduce the environmental impact of pesticides?
The cotton industry is investing in research and exploring partnerships to create more pest control tools and better decision-making tools. For cotton growers, adopting new tools is important within a continued adherence to integrated pest, weed and disease management as spelled out in myBMP.
The PLANET. PEOPLE. PADDOCK. sustainability framework is focused on the topics most important to the industry and its stakeholders. Through a process involving a technical review, industry input and external stakeholder consultations nine topics have been identified across our environmental (PLANET), social (PEOPLE) and economic (PADDOCK) impacts.
The industry is working to set targets for these nine topics. In achieving these sustainability targets, the industry aims to run profitable and efficient businesses while creating environmental, economic and social value.
Bee image courtesy Johnelle Rogan.