Action 2: Preparatory Actions
Achieving the Project’s fundamental goal – namely, the rational use of pesticides and fertilizers - required the EcoPest team to first gain a solid working knowledge of a) specific local issues regarding plant protection, b) pre-existing pesticide inputs in the pilot area, and c) the level of awareness and the mindset of farmers and sprayer-operators regarding the protection of environment (both biotic and abiotic) and human health. Establishing this starting point required parallel assessment of the environmental condition of the area and the pollutant concentrations in water and soil.
Contracts of cooperation were signed with the 114 participating farmers. The necessary contacts were made with a view to setting-up a cooperative network of local advisor agronomists within the EcoPest area.
The boundaries of the pilot area, as well as the individual fields and plots, were set and mapped, along with all the required data. The mapping and spatial distribution of crops for 2009 was based on the cartographic substrate of ΟSDΕ (Integrated Management and Control System) which was obtained for the Project by Greek Payment Agency (O.P.E.K.E.P.E.) . Hydro-lithological and soil maps were also produced.
The plots were divided into two types: Type A, which included the network of water and soil sampling sites in the unsaturated zone (see Action 6), and Type B, which included the rest. The establishment and mapping of this environmental monitoring network was completed, while water and soil sampling and analyses were made on a regular, scheduled basis (at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of each cropping period). This was done according to a certified protocol, so that a record of organic and inorganic pollutants over time could be produced.
The environmental assessment showed that the aquatic system of the area has a high susceptibility to pollution (according to the endogenous vulnerability model DRASTIC). The quality of the Kifissos River (along the pilot area) was deemed satisfactory during 2009, with the concentrations of most parameters fluctuating at around the expected levels for natural water.
Within the area’s geological formations, there are two basic aquifer systems: karstic and alluvial. The karstic system is the main formation, and is characterized by a high capacity. The alluvial system is of low capacity, of mainly local significance, and has its quality impaired by chemicals. The soil in the area of interest is alkaline, with a low calcium carbonate content, and is poor in organic matter. Due to pollution by nitrogen compounds, the area is listed in the nitrogen-pollution reduction project.
Participating farmers submitted weekly and monthly forms recording data concerning cultivation and chemical inputs. The data were entered in two databases: one for pesticides, and one for fertilizers. This database constitutes a deliverable of the Project.
Plant health was monitored through daily visits, checking the extent and timing of the emergence of pest problems. These checks were done according to the respective Overview/Monitoring Methodology published by the BPI team.
In particular, the prevalent weeds and pests were documented, as well as their population dynamics in the area. Maize varieties were tested for their pest tolerance (see Action 3). Insects were recorded through the establishment of a network of traps. Also assessed was the severity and incidence of plants attacked by serious disease-causing pathogens. Alongside this, fields were monitored for plant toxicity caused by residual herbicide from previous seasons. The above were conducted in selected sampling fields/plots. The results of this activity showed that the insect threats to tomato and cotton were mainly the lepidopterans cotton bollworm and pink bollworm (which did not cause serious production problems) and wireworms. Diseases included mildew on the tomatoes, a disease which degrades the leaves and indirectly affects the quality of the product through sunburn. However, the biggest permanent problem of plant protection in the area was that of weeds, with purple nutsedge (Cyperus rotundus) dominant.
These results are completely consistent with the use of plant protection products. Specifically, in the pilot area, the main herbicide active-ingredient levels in cotton were of ethafluralin, fluometuron, and glyphosate-salt pesticides (in absolute quantity values); in maize, terbuthylazine and foramsulfuron; and in tomato, s-metalachlor. The main active-ingredient of insecticides was the granular form of chlorpyrifos, applied during the sowing of cotton to control insects in the soil (mainly for wireworms). No pesticide was applied as part of the cultivation of maize. However, in tomato, the active-ingredients abamectin and deltamethrin were used for the control of lepidoptera, aphids and whitefly - though in very low quantities, when measured as a percentage of the total amounts used in the whole area. The fungicides myclobutanil and azoxystrobin were used only in tomato crops, and were of minor importance considering the overall amounts of plant protection products used in 2009.
In the case of fertilizers, it could be assumed that farmers participating in the recording of agricultural activities in their farms had consciously tried to stick to the levels of fertilizers required by the nitrogen-pollution reduction project in the area, due either to environmental awareness, or out of a fear of penalties from non-compliance.
Also, while the average nitrogen units applied (N) in cotton (9.87), in maize (14.5) and in tomato (9.21) were found to be compliant with the levels of the nitrogen-pollution reduction project (11, 14.5 and 9 N units respectively) this was not a picture reflected in the environment itself, because the over-use of fertilizers in past years had contributed to the accumulation of nitrogen compounds in the saturated zone.
Processing of the questionnaires results by query and category was completed and a corresponding database was created.
These data provided a snapshot of the prevailing conditions in the area prior to the application of Low Input Crop Management System (LCM) and related training, and were the basis for comparison with data collected from the area towards the end of the Project. These initial data were mainly used in defining general risk indicators and indices of the Project. At this stage, the answers on the questionnaires and the assessment of the farmers’ knowledge revealed a disparity between the correct application of agricultural practices and the way pesticides were actually being used in the area (see Action 8).
Also undertaken was the establishment of pre-existing concentrations of inorganic and organic pollutants in the aquatic and soil resources of the pilot area. This made possible the evaluation of any changes as a result of the Project’s methods of reducing plant protection products inputs. The results are analyzed in Action 6.
As part of the dissemination activities, information about the Project and its goals was supplied to the farmers through presentations in the districts of Thourio, Cheronia, Akontio, and Agios Vlassios. Scientists from all the Project Beneficiaries participated in these events. In addition, private and public bodies in the area were informed via further meetings, contacts and conferences.
The environmental data of the area were collected and passed to the scientific network , in order to be used for prediction of plant protection problems, the fate and behavior of plant protection products, and for running the risk assessment predictive models (DRASTIC, FOCUS PEARL).
Any other implemented programs (environmental, training, etc.) being run in the wider area of the Project were recorded, so that the EcoPest scientists would be aware of the research objectives and applications of these other projects.
Finally, a visual inspection of spraying machinery took place, and the dispersal pattern of the spray-drift was measured (presented in Action 10).