Potential to reduce pesticides in intensive apple production through management practices could be challenged by climatic extremes


Apples are the third most produced fruit in the world, but their production is often pesticide-intensive. Our objective was to identify options for pesticide reduction using farmer records from 2549 commercial apple fields in Austria during five years between 2010 and 2016. Using generalized additive mixed modeling, we examined how pesticide use was related to farm management, apple varieties, and meteorological parameters, and how it affected yields and toxicity to honeybees. Apple fields received 29.5 ± 8.6 (mean ± SD) pesticide applications per season at a rate of 56.7 ± 22.7 kg ha−1, which included a total of 228 pesticide products with 80 active ingredients. Over the years, fungicides accounted for 71 % of the pesticide amounts applied, insecticides for 15 %, and herbicides for 8 %. The most frequently used fungicides were sulfur (52 %), followed by captan (16 %) and dithianon (11 %). Of insecticides, paraffin oil (75 %) and chlorpyrifos/chlorpyrifos-methyl (6 % combined) were most frequently used. Among herbicides, glyphosate (54 %), CPA (20 %) and pendimethalin (12 %) were most often used. Pesticide use increased with increasing frequency of tillage and fertilization, increasing field size, increasing spring temperatures, and drier summer conditions. Pesticide use decreased with increasing number of summer days with maximum temperatures >30 °C and number of warm, humid days. Apple yields were significantly positively related to the number of heat days, warm humid nights, and pesticide treatment frequency, but were not affected by frequency of fertilization and tillage. Honeybee toxicity was not related to insecticide use. Pesticide use and yield were significantly related to apple varieties. Our analysis shows that pesticide use in the apple farms studied can be reduced by less fertilization and tillage, partly because yields were >50 % higher than the European average. However, weather extremes related to climate change, such as drier summers, could challenge plans to reduce pesticide use.


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