Is a Significant Reduction in Pesticides in Wheat and Oilseed Rape Crops Cost-Efficient?

In wheat crops, pesticides can be used more sparingly without sacrificing cost-efficiency. With oilseed rape the situation is more difficult, since the reduced yields are not offset by higher revenues. These are the findings of the analysis of the first two harvest years of the PestiRed project.

Swiss arable farms participating in the PestiRed Project are trying to reduce their use of plant protection products, or PPPs (see box). To do this, they focus on the consistent application of integrated plant protection principles. Using data from the first two harvest years of 2020 and 2021, Agroscope researchers examined whether growing wheat and oilseed rape without pesticides can be cost-efficient.

Cost-efficiency significantly lower for oilseed rape than for wheat

The findings show that in the current environment, the use of synthetic chemical PPPs in wheat crops can be largely forgone without negatively impacting cost-efficiency. With oilseed rape crops, however, forgoing the use of synthetic chemical PPPs led to a significant reduction in profitability. Thus, after deducting direct costs and work execution costs, the economic yields of the plots where lower amounts of synthetic chemical PPPs were used were on average 34% lower than those of the control plots.

Oilseed rape: reduction in yields not offset by market profits and direct payments

With wheat, lower yields and higher production costs are offset by higher market premiums and by direct payments from the public sector, with the result that profitability can be maintained, or even improved slightly. With oilseed rape, forgoing the use of PPPs leads to higher yield losses that are not offset by a reduction in costs, higher market performance or direct payments. A starting point might be to further develop the successful linking of direct-payment incentives with market incentives, i.e. to more strongly differentiate the market-side incentives, as with wheat.

Seasonality, regionality and farm experience as possible influences

These initial findings of the cost-efficiency analysis must, however, be interpreted with caution, and cannot be generalised. There are, for example, significant weather-related annual fluctuations, as demonstrated clearly by the 2020 and 2021 harvest years: for both wheat and oilseed rape, yields in warm, dry 2020 were significantly higher than for wetter, cooler 2021. In addition, site-specific environmental factors are not taken into account in the analyses.

Moreover, many of the participating farms already grow wheat, and in particular oilseed rape, with reduced PPP use as standard (even on the control plots), in the ‘Extenso’ programme. Because of this, they already have experience in forgoing the use of PPPs and have established appropriate work processes. Accordingly, many control plots cannot be interpreted as plots managed according to strictly conventional principles. Ultimately, crop cultivation in the PestiRed project is experimental in nature, with farmers consciously running a certain risk and being compensated by the project in the event of significant crop losses. Thus, the results are not transferable one-to-one to the Swiss agricultural sector.

This analysis is based on the first two years of the project. The analyses from several years of cultivation as well as from the entire rotation after six years’ implementation will yield in-depth findings. Moreover, it is to be expected that longer-term observations will increase the reliability of the results.

PestiRed: can we reduce pesticides while maintaining profits?
The PestiRed Project aims to reduce the use of plant protection products in field crops in Switzerland by 75% while preventing cost-efficiency from falling by more than 10%. Preventive and alternative measures and combinations of measures are meant to enable a marked reduction in plant protection products over a six-year field-crop rotation period. The project will run from 2019 to 2025, and the impact monitoring until 2027. The project pursues the “co-creation and sharing of knowledge with farmers” approach, to improve sustainability.
A total of 65 farms from the Cantons of Geneva (GE), Vaud (VD) and Solothurn (SO) are involved in the project. The project is supported by IP-SUISSE and the Cantonal Agricultural Agencies of GE, VD and SO, as well as agricultural extension organisations. It is primarily funded by the Resources Programme of the Federal Office for Agriculture.


  • Largely forgoing the use of synthetic chemical plant-protection products (PPPs) did not on average reduce the cost-efficiency of wheat cultivation for the two years examined. Lower yields and higher production costs were offset by higher market profits and higher direct payments.
  • With oilseed rape crops, forgoing the use of synthetic chemical PPPs reduced the cost-efficiency per plot by an average of 34%. Lower yields and higher production costs were not offset by market performance and direct payments.
  • Effects related to the year and region as well as the non-random selection of the participating farms have not yet been taken into account. The results must therefore be interpreted with caution, and are not one-to-one transferable to the Swiss agricultural sector.
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