A nematicide used widely on tomato crops across Europe is currently only available to growers under emergency license. Southern Italian farmers have relied on the soil fumigant – 1,3-dichloropropene (1,3-D) – for more than 50 years to manage plant parasitic nematodes (microscopic worms) in tomato cultivation.
The client was keen to provide advice to Member States for licensing purposes, and promote longer-term discussions with the European Commission and EFSA on Annex I inclusion – ensuring the nematicide could be regulated and used routinely across Europe.
Choosing a course of action
A Ramboll team carried out two conceptual studies in contrary agricultural landscapes – Puglia and Sicily – to determine the environmental, social and economic risks and benefits of 1,3-D in tomato production.
The Puglian landscape largely comprises open field tomato crops grown in annual rotation with other crops (mainly cucurbits). In contrast, farms in the Ragusa region of southern Sicily produce several cycles of non-rotated tomato crops per year in greenhouses/polytunnels.
We assessed the use of 1,3-D in conjunction with alternative treatment methods and integrated pest management (IPM) strategies like soil solarisation and biofumigation. Though the study focused on southern Italy, the results are representative of similar tomato producing regions in Mediterranean countries.
The team used socio-economic assessment combined with novel approaches, such as ecosystem services analysis. A farm income model was developed in parallel with the prioritisation of ecosystem services.
Indicators for services provided by the agri-environment were identified and valued, then compared across scenarios to determine the pest control treatment that provided net environmental benefits at reasonable cost. The economic evaluation of crop production was aggregated to a regional level (south Italy and the islands) and extrapolated over a 10-year time frame.
Shaping environmental policy
Our study crystallised the level of protection provided by 1,3-D in tomato crop production and its benefits to farmers. It was confirmed that 1,3-D is needed to maintain farm income and secure the regional agricultural economy into the future.
Uncertainties relating to the prediction of environmental risks raised by regulatory authorities were addressed through more detailed soil and groundwater risk modelling. Ecosystem services provided by the tomato farms varied between production systems and no changes were found for several ecosystem services including pollination, under conventional cropping systems.
Crucially, the study was used to support decision-making on risk management and farmer’s choices for 1,3-D use with biological treatments as part of additional integrated pest management (IPM) strategies.