The future of crop protection

By our Editorial Team

Against a backdrop of public and political pressures driving changes in industrial practice, we look at likely influences an

Against a backdrop of public and political pressures driving changes in industrial practice, we look at likely influences and changes in the crop protection industry over the next 10 years.
To explore ideas about the future direction of the crop protection industry, contract research corporation Envigo recently presented a white paper, published in July 2018.1 With a focus on drivers of change over the next 10 years, this article summarizes some of the key points from the white paper, which can be downloaded from
Regulatory drivers for change
As stated in a report to the European parliament in 2009, ‘‘There is a strong desire throughout society to move towards sustainable food production, and a reduction or even ban on the use of pesticides.’’ This attitude drives the regulatory framework for pesticides in Europe.2 A strict system of regulation, aimed at reducing pesticide exposure, promoting integrated pest management (IPM), and governing data requirements for active substances and toxicology tests, has been cited as the main reason for an approximate 50% reduction in the number of approved active substances in recent years.2
The future regulatory landscape is expected to focus more on the implementation of existing regulations, rather than the introduction of new ones.  New guidance documents will continue to be published on a regular basis, because the interpretation of data is constantly changing over time – often as a consequence of societal attitudes generating political pressure on the regulator.
Reflecting these pressures, Envigo’s market research (N=79) suggested that the industry expects regulations to become even stricter, with 93% of respondents stating that they thought global regulatory requirements would increase further in the next few years. The main foci of these future regulatory requirements are anticipated to be environmental responsibility (38%) and human safety (19%).
It seems inevitable that the regulatory environment is likely to become ever more challenging for the crop protection industry, and this will probably result in a decline in the use of synthetic pesticides.
The impact of public attitude
The public’s recent focus on plastic waste and the response from government and industry illustrates how public attitude can suddenly transform our relationship to everyday objects and the regulations that govern them.
As part of the recent REFIT evaluation of plant protection product regulation, there was a public consultation, which gathered public views via an online questionnaire (N=9,847). The findings showed a distinct lack of trust in the crop protection industry, with 52% of respondents saying they did not feel safe consuming food grown or treated with pesticides in the EU, and 72% saying they did not feel safe eating food grown or treated with pesticides outside the EU. Envigo’s market research showed a similar pattern of response, with 63% of respondents believing that the crop protection industries’ aims and objectives are perceived unfavourably.
The crop protection industry needs to take on the challenge of communicating clearly with the public and building up its trust. For example, the need to consider environmental responsibility is well established, and will continue to shape public opinion and political pressures. The crop protection industry needs to better define and communicate the costs and benefits of pesticide usage, to ensure it can engage in the debate and influence the methods used for decision-making. By taking on this challenge, and developing a multi-solution approach and a business model that supports it, the crop protection industry could help transform the environmental debate.
Biopesticides and low-risk substances
Public pressure to use natural products in place of chemicals will continue. This will drive the political pressure on regulators for ever more regulation to move towards a pesticide-free future. However, current regulations for plant protection products are generally not appropriate for biopesticides. Additional regulatory guidance in this area is likely to be required.
Simplification for downstream users
One of the challenges for downstream users (e.g. farmers) is the wide range of products available, which either have the same active substance or active substances with similar modes of action. This has implications for the build up of resistance, as farmers inadvertently apply products with similar modes of action in sequence, and in the safety of mixtures of active substances.
Industry is already trying to respond to this complexity and its consequences. For example, CropLife International – the voice of the global plant science industry – has asked members to commit to the voluntary inclusion of mode-of-action information on all product labels by 2023. In addition, there may also be a need to drive better integration of the practices occurring downstream with upstream data generation.
The future of the crop protection industry will continue to evolve as public and political pressure results in even tighter regulation, and the industry may benefit from engaging in the debate about environmental responsibility and safety in a new, holistic and proactive way. Harnessing public attitudes about food security and safety, and demonstrating how the crop protection industry can help deliver this, should also be encouraged.
However, this will require wider communication and engagement, and new partnerships with old adversaries. It is unclear how such efforts could be co-ordinated on an industry-wide scale, and who the voice(s) of this industry might be. But perhaps the key question is whether such a competitive industry is ready for a challenge involving such collaborative effort.
  1. Envigo. Future Focus: Crop Protection Industry. July 2018 (
  2. European Commission. COM(2017) 587 final. 2017 (
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