Defra's Pesticide Usage Report editions 243 (outdoor vegetable crops) and 244 (edible protected crops) found that pesticide use by weight has dropped by 36 per cent for outdoor crops and 18 per cent in protected crops since 2007, which the authors ascribe mainly to the reduced use of soil sterilants.
Total sprayed area rose slightly, by three per cent in outdoor crops and seven per cent in protected crops. The total area of field vegetables dropped by two per cent over the period, while the area under glass increased by two per cent.
Perhaps the greatest shift over the period has been the rise of biological controls, which now account for 67 per cent of the pesticide-treated area in protected horticulture. The use of the bio-pesticide Bacillus subtilis has also increased almost fourfold in outdoor crops.
The Chemicals Regulation Directorate-funded reports are based on data that were gathered from 637 vegetable holdings and 258 glasshouse holdings, which report co-author David Garthwaite described as "a significant chunk of the total area". This is then extrapolated to provide nationwide figures.
Eighty per cent of vegetable growers surveyed, and 65 per cent of protected growers, are part of assurance schemes that require the careful use and recording of all pesticides.
Similar UK-wide surveys of the softand top-fruit sectors will be undertaken over the coming winter, with all reports being produced on two-yearly cycles thereafter, according to Defra.
Garthwaite added: "The data can help the industry build a case for both new and existing pesticides."
The full reports are available online at tinyurl.com/pestreports.