Agriculture experts emphasize importance of pesticide use on export crops

Leonard P. Gianessi, who served as director of CropLife Foundation’s Crop Protection Research Institute from 2004 to 2012, spoke on the global need of pesticides for export crops during the recent Maximum Residue Level (MRL) Roundtable sponsored by CropLife America (CLA).

Gianessi said crops that cannot survive freezing temperatures such as banana, cocoa, coffee, tea and mango grow in the tropics where insects and weeds thrive. Without pesticides, the production of such crops would decrease significantly.

“Bananas are the most popular fruit in the world – 34 billion pounds are exported around the world from the tropics every year,” Gianessi told the growers, packers, shippers, pest control advisers, crop protection registrants, government regulators, trade experts and other stakeholders in international trade that attended the event.

Growers rely on pesticides to prevent a Sigatoka fungal germ tube from penetrating the banana leaf and causing disease in the banana plant, Gianessi said.

“Sigatoka disease is one of the really prominent diseases in plant pathology history," he said. "It’s present in all banana growing regions. (In the) 1930s, it literally destroyed 22,000 acres of bananas in Central America and fungicides have been used since 1936. So for the last 80 years, or so, fungicides in the export of bananas have (been relied upon).”

Since fungicides are applied to banana plants 25 to 35 times annually, Gianessi said there is a need for all the fungicides used on bananas to have maximum residual limits  in place to facilitate the movement of bananas into the export market.

Coffee is another staple product in the world -- Americans drink 330 million cups of coffee a day.  The coffee bean plant can get attached by fungal spores that penetrate coffee bean leaves and cause coffee rust that destroys the plant.

Coffee rust destroyed Ceylon’s entire coffee plantation in the1860s in Sri Lanka and resulted in the British resorting to drinking tea when coffee production moved to Latin America, where the organism wasn’t present, Gianessi said. But when coffee rust spread to Brazil in 1970, and then to other parts of Latin America, fungicides were used to protect the plants.

Gianessi went on to give other examples of the benefits of pesticides on mangoes, apples, oranges, grapes and other fruit.

“The real driver of pesticide use around the world, particularly on fruit and vegetable crops, are consumers,” he said. “It’s consumers that demand picture-perfect produce. They don’t want to have insect damage, any insects present, any scab organisms – anything like that.”

According to a supermarket survey conducted in the U.S., respondents said they were willing to pay 5 to 10 percent more for certified pesticide-free produce, but were unwilling to accept any cosmetic defects or insect damage.

“Basically, you can’t have it both ways,” Gianessi said. “If you’re going to have picture-perfect produce, you’ve got to accept the idea and reality of pesticide use, whether it’s domestic markets or export markets.”

Gianessi concluded his presentation by emphasizing that the importance of pesticides should not be overlooked.

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