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Why this farmer has a network instead of insect pesticides

Two initiatives are intended for the use of pesticides. Some farmers, like Walter Stettler, instead rely on nets and scents to prevent insects. But without chemistry, he disagrees.

Maja Briner

Farmer Walter Stettler shows his cherry plantation. (Photo: Colin Frei)

Farmer Walter Stettler shows his cherry plantation. (Photo: Colin Frei)

This is a permanent defense struggle, farmer Walter Stettler protects his cherries. Cherry vinegar flies, leaf ears, birds – they all reap the harvest. Even the rain is a problem: cherries today need to be large and crispy, so they are desirable. As a result, they are so sensitive that they will quickly explode when the rain falls. However, Stettler puts most of the vinegar on cherry. He says:

"Actually I would inject another insecticide just before harvest." But I do not want to do that. "

Up and down in the country, pest control pests farmers. In this way, they resort to those tools that are currently causing a political dispute: pesticides. Every year, in Switzerland, it sells more than 2,000 tons. The means serve their purpose, but they arrive wherever they are supposed to be, in streams and underground waters.

Two popular initiatives want to limit the use of pesticides: one calls for ban on synthetic pesticides; The Drinking Water Initiative, in turn, wants farmers using pesticides to reduce their direct payments.

What is what?

The terms pesticides and pesticides are often used as synonyms. Strictly speaking, that is not true: plant protection products are substances that protect plants from pests or destroy weeds. The term pesticides is more comprehensive: apart from pesticides, they also include substances that protect people or animals from pests (biocides). This includes, for example, mosquito repellents or disinfectants. (MJB)

On Wednesday, a debate began at the National Council, Thursday decides. The result is foreseeable: The National Council will reject both initiatives, just like the Federal Council and the Farmers' Association. Instead, they use a non-binding action plan for plant protection to reduce the use of pesticides.

No access to insects

How this can work in practice shows a visit to Walter Stettler. Its farm is located in a small hamlet of Flugbrunnen in Canton Bern, surrounded by green meadows nesting along the hills. Stettler grew up on the farm, and nowadays, the 60-year-old, together with his wife and son, builds cherries, apples, plums and other fruits on 3.5 hectares, which is just below five football pitches. Many pesticides are used in fruit production. Stettler's jeans, a striped polo shirt, a gray fur jacket over her – is not an organic farmer. But he is trying not to use pesticides if there are other good solutions.

The chase of Walter Stettler's cherry, which is protected by a net. (Photo: Colin Frei)

The chase of Walter Stettler's cherry, which is protected by a net. (Photo: Colin Frei)

Most of its fruit trees, therefore, grow in some kind of tent: on the meadow around the tree a firm network is stretched; looks like a dark, corner greenhouse. As soon as bees pollinate trees in the spring, Stettler sets the net so that insects and birds do not come to fruition. It is not a feast for the eyes – but it works. "Lock in insects is the best solution," he says. For more than five years it protects cherry, nectarines, plums and peaches. With traps, he or she checks whether there is no real cherry tree and other pests at the tree. In recent years, this worked well, and Stettler did not have to inject insecticides on planted trees.

It is confused by the female attractor

He uses another apple method. "I'm confused here," he says. Confusingly, that means: There is a dispenser on the tree that looks like a thick wire. It emits an odor that resembles a female apple worm of apples – and that at a concentration that makes male animals disorientated. So I can not find females any more and can not duplicate. However, Stettler does not rely entirely on pesticides. In case of fungal infections it is injected, even with the fingers that he had to resort to. And he uses herbicides on the ground under trees. If it did without it, grass and weed would have to be crushed every three weeks – both machine and hand. Stettler says:

"This is too much effort and it would be too expensive."

Meanwhile, Stettler receives money from the Canton and Confederation for confusion and networking. He participates in the Plant Protection Project in Bern, launched two years ago with the aim of reducing the use of pesticides. For example, there is money for farmers who do not use herbicides, as well as for those who have set up a safe sprayer location so that pesticides do not end up in the environment when cleaning the equipment. About 3400 companies participate in the project – more than half of eligible agricultural holdings. The Bern project is important because every fifth job in Switzerland is located in this canton.

Farmer Walter Stettler shows his cherries (Picture: Colin Frei)

Farmer Walter Stettler shows his cherries (Picture: Colin Frei)

Similar projects are being implemented in other regions, which have been financially supported by the federal government as part of the Action Plan for Plant Protection Products. Others are yet to start: In the cantons of Aargau, Thurgau and Zurich, a project called "Pflopf" is currently being launched, focusing on technology – such as GPS equipment for plant protection. The aim is to reduce the use of pesticides by at least a quarter. About 60 companies are responsible. You will receive a maximum of 15,000 francs a year.

Contradictory desires

Walter Stettler's financial incentives did not make a difference. "Money is not enough to cover the costs," he says. Although it also spends less on pesticides, the network cost tens of thousands of francs. Stettler points out:

"I'm doing it from ecological beliefs – and that's the point of sale".

In the farm and on the market, at times they asked him how much pesticide was injected. At the same time, however, he notes: "A large part of consumers do not buy the fruits they have, and the worms in apples are certainly not accepted." The prospect is that farmers are constantly complaining: pesticides are demonized, but the goods should be flawless.

The criticism of the farmer Stettler is visibly boring. Usually he says calmly and deliberately, but when it comes to politics, he becomes a little louder. He says agriculture is hacked. And that the initiative for potable water has produced fruit, he thinks it is simply "crazy." Finally, inject more goals today than before.

Stettler is angry at the criticism of farmers. (Photo: Colin Frei)

Stettler is angry at the criticism of farmers. (Photo: Colin Frei)

And it would not be easy: if you add additional requirements, such as production without herbicide, you should consider switching to organic food, he says. Only: "Many would do it, and if he produced it without a herbicide, he would have to use the tractor more often to go through the trees – which is bad for the soil and the environment." Stettler says, "Everything's the worst thing."