Less pesticide used in agriculture

A farmer spraying pesticides on his pear trees.
© ANP / Vidiphoto
In 2020, Dutch farmers used 5 million kilograms of crop protection products, representing a decrease of more than 11 percent on 2016. The quantity used per hectare decreased by 13.4 percent as of 2016, while the cultivation area treated with such products increased by nearly 15 thousand hectares. Unlike in previous years, more pesticides were used for the control of insects than for weed control. This is evident from new research conducted by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) into pesticide use on 42 different crops.
Crop protection products are products which are used in agriculture to prevent or control harmful diseases, pests or weed among crops. They include agents based on chemically active substances as well as agents based on microbiologically active substances (viruses, bacteria). Furthermore, a selection of products such as paraffin oil has been classified under green crop protection. In 2020, the share of green crop protection stood at 25 percent. CBS surveys agricultural holdings every four years to find out the level of pesticide use per crop (for altogether 42 crops).

Less application of fungicides and bactericides

In 2020, almost 2.2 million kg of crop protection products (i.e. the weight of the active substance) were applied to control fungi and bacteria. Although this is nearly 20 percent less than in 2016, it remains the most widely applied group of pesticides, constituting nearly 44 percent of the total. As for herbicides and haulm destructors, over 1.2 million kg of active substance were applied, i.e. 14 percent less than in 2016 and in 2012. The use of insecticides and acaricides rose by nearly 12 percent to just over 1.3 million kg in 2020. The use of other products, including molluscicides, plant growth regulators and sprout inhibitors, declined by 10 percent relative to 2016 to nearly 0.2 million kg. Weather conditions during cultivation play a major role in these sorts of changes.
Pesticide use in agriculture
PeriodenFungicides and bactericides (x million kg of active substance)Insecticides and acaricides (x million kg of active substance)Herbicides, haulm destructors and moss killers (x million kg of active substance)Other agents (x million kg of active substance)
*provisional figures

Pesticide use declining in most crops

In two-thirds of the 42 agricultural crops surveyed, fewer crop protection products were used in 2020 compared to 2016. For example, 601 thousand kilograms were used during the cultivation of lily bulbs, against 755 thousand kilograms in 2016 (a decline of almost 21 percent). On the other hand, seed potato cultivation involved nearly 1.1 million kilograms, i.e. 27 percent more than in 2016. The total quantity used to protect table potatoes, seed potatoes and starch potatoes amounted to 2.2 million kg. This is equivalent to nearly 44 percent of all crop protection products used in agriculture in 2020.
Paraffin oil is commonly used as an insecticide during the cultivation of lily bulbs as well as seed potatoes.
Crops with the highest pesticide intensity
Perioden2020* (x 1,000 kg of active substance)2016 (x 1,000 kg of active substance)
Seed potatoes1052827
Lily bulbs601755
Table potatoes600936
Starch potatoes525502
Tulips (outdoor)385360
Sugar beets363273
Seed onions356414
Maize silage160236
Winter wheat134201
Onion sets115117
Spring barley3430
*provisional figures

Pesticide use per hectare declining

The crop with the highest pesticide intensity is the lily bulb. In 2020, each hectare of lily bulbs under crop protection was treated with 114 kg of pesticide, which included 83 kg of paraffin oil. This represents a modest decrease relative to 2016 (125 kg per ha). Greenhouse-cultivated bulbs such as chrysanthemums and roses were treated with 52 and 40 kg pesticide per hectare, respectively. Tulips (open ground, bulbs) and gerberas completed the top five of crops with the highest pesticide intensity per hectare.
Aside from flowers and flower bulbs, relatively large quantities of crop protection products were applied in the cultivation of seed potatoes, apples and pears: between 20 and 35 kg of active substance per hectare under crop protection. Among other crops, the intensity is less than 15 kg per hectare.
Pesticide application per area declined for most crops between 2016 and 2020. Exceptions included seed potatoes (up by nearly 20 percent) and narcissi (up by over 21 percent).

Highest pesticide intensity per hectare1)
Perioden2020* (x kg of active substance per ha)2016 (x kg of active substance per ha)
Lilies (bulbs)113.7124.5
(under glass)
Roses (under glass)40.184
Tulips (outdoor)25.828.1
(under glass)
Seed potatoes2420.1
Seed onions13.117.7
Onion sets12.415.7
Pot plants
(flowering under glass)
Starch potato11.612
*provisional figures 1)during use of at least one crop protection product