From the first of January this year it has become compulsory for all professional users of plant protection products (PPPs) to operate to the ‘general principles’ of integrated pest management (IPM).

This being the case, this week’s vegetable seminar, which was organised by Teagasc and sponsored by Bord Bia, had IPM as its keynote theme.

According to Lorcan Bourke of Bord Bia who spoke at the event “understanding the balancing act between consumers and growers in the usage of pesticides is important”.

Key to a proper understanding of IPM is the word “justified”, noted Bourke.

IPM is a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimises economic, health, and environmental risks.

In layman’s terms, this means a grower would monitor his or her crops more closely and use pesticides when necessary, rather than routinely spraying crops.

He said: “On the one side you have the grower trying to protect the crop in terms of yield, meeting market specification, economic return, erratic weather. On the other hand there is the consumer concerned public health,clean environment, sustainable farming and so on.

“IPM is a middle ground between these sides. Regulatory bodies are, promoting the responsible, safe and justified use of all plant protection products.”

Most farmers are doing this anyway, according to Bourke. “When I started in the sector many years ago there was a big difference between organic and conventional growers. That gap has narrowed significantly over the years. I don’t see IPM being a big issue for farmers.”

The horticulture expert also highlighted that from a marketing point of view it is important to give the consumer what the consumer wants. “Key messages coming back from our market research has shown that consumers want safe and clean food for themselves and their families.”

He pointed out health and well-being have been key consumer trends in the food area globally.

As healthcare costs increase, more emphasis is being placed on personal responsibilities of health including health eating and for parents securing the health of their children in a top priority.

So with global trends in terms of food consumption known, how is Bord Bia positioning the fresh produce industry?

According to Bourke, at a retail we are positioning ourselves as the “local suppliers of the no. 1 category” playing on the fact that consumers spend more on vegetables than any other category.

At the consumer level, he noted: “We are trying to tie in with the health and wellness trend. We are trying to point out to people that vegetables are part of the solution when it comes to public health and wellness.”

However Bourke stressed: “This will only work if we promote this idea and successfully communicate it to the public. I feel more needs to be done, but the lifeline of any campaign is money and if we had a bigger budget we could do more.”

Although he did highlight that Bord Bia has done a lot of work in this area such with projects such as Food Dudes Programme, Best in Season, among others.

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