Frederic Lacroix-Couture, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — A group of Quebec researchers will try to “highlight” concrete examples of the benefits of reducing pesticides on the health of agricultural land, in order to encourage producers to commit to a sustainable and ecological practice.
“For farmers, the environment is important to them. In a perfect world, they would like to reduce their use of pesticides, but even there, they have to see the results, to make sure that they will not have a loss of yield,” argues Professor Valérie Langlois of the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS), which will lead the work with his colleague Isabelle Lavoie, also a professor.
Because if the consequences of pesticides are well documented, conversely, there are few demonstrations as to the potential gains for biodiversity when their use is reduced.
“It seems obvious, but at the same time if nobody does it… That’s what farmers need, a kind of evidence that it works,” argues Ms. Langlois, an expert in ecotoxicogenomics.
Thanks to recent funding of nearly $1.3 million, his team will be able to put forward this possibility. Over the next four years, she will study the effects of mixtures of the most common contaminants in field crops and market gardening areas.
The researchers will observe the reaction of living organisms in ecosystems, such as springtails, by gradually removing pesticides.
“What is the benefit, which ones come back, which ones are more numerous,” explains Ms. Langlois in an interview.
“The hypothesis is that it will increase biodiversity with organisms that reflect the quality of good soil,” adds the researcher.
The approach will also seek to establish a balance between reducing pesticides and maintaining an attractive yield for producers.
The group of scientists, which also includes two experts from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, will begin its field work this summer with farmers who are at different stages of a biological transition. They will perform their experiments on plots of land.
Part of the research will also take place in the laboratory.
Concentration in water
The research project entitled “AgriSolEau” will also focus on the concentration of pesticides in streams neighboring agricultural land, with the aim of bringing about a change in the way in which the quality of these streams is measured.
Their starting hypothesis is that the contaminants will stick to biofilms, these mixtures of microorganisms that form on the rocks and give a sticky texture. These biofilms are part of the food chain of several aquatic species.
“We think it’s even more contaminated and the fact that the animals are going to feed there will increase the pesticide load. Simply measuring the concentration of pesticides in the water would not be enough. We should rather look at the concentrations in the biofilms to have a better indication of the contamination, ”explains Ms. Langlois.
The researchers will sample microscopic algae and invertebrates. In small outdoor pools, they will recreate mini-food chains with, among other things, algae, snails and mussels.
Team members will assess whether pesticides accumulate in aquatic organisms more when they are ingested through food, than through gill exposure alone.
The INRS research project is one of 11 funded under a program on sustainable agriculture, supported by the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
This article was produced with the financial support of the Meta Fellowships and The Canadian Press for News.