A new leaf

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Science  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6411, pp. 144-147
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6411.144

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In 2008, the French government announced a dramatic shift in agricultural policy, calling for pesticide use to be slashed in half. And it wanted to hit that target in just a decade. No other country with as large and diverse an agricultural system had tried anything so ambitious. Since then, the French government has spent nearly half a billion euros on implementing the plan, called Ecophyto. It banned numerous pesticides, created a network of thousands of farms that test methods of reducing chemical use, improved national surveillance of pests and plant diseases, and funded research on technologies and techniques that reduce pesticide use. Although the effort helped cut demand on many farms in the network, national use increased by 12%. Officials are now finalizing a revised plan. Some observers are already skeptical. Farmers fear burdensome rules and increased costs that will put them at a competitive disadvantage. Environmental organizations worry France will again fall short. Despite Ecophyto's failure, it showed farmers have powerful options, such as mixing crops, new varieties, and using natural predators of pests. With the right incentives and support, those tools might make a bigger difference this time around. Meeting the original target, however, will require larger change in the agricultural system.