Against a backdrop of food-price spikes and calls for action on global food security, an assessment of the economic importance of a key class of crop protection chemicals has confirmed the value of hi-tech solutions for sustainable productive agriculture and underlined the essential contribution of research and development.

The Nomisma-led study establishes that without triazoles, major European cereal crops would be critically vulnerable to septoria, the most economically damaging pathogen of European wheat, a devastating fungal infection that can inflict yield losses of up to 40%.

"If Europe is to remain competitive, we must invest to protect our harvests. Research and development is costly and time - consuming, but failure to equip farmers with the right tools for the job will have serious implications on productivity," said Friedhelm Schmider, Director General of the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA).

Europe is currently a net exporter of wheat, producing 21% of the global harvest; triazoles support this level of productivity, enabling a competitive European yield of 5.3 t/ha versus a global average of 2.9 t/ha.

"This study underlines the vital contribution of triazoles and the critical importance of innovation. A slump in European wheat productivity would be a disaster for European markets and a serious blow to global food security. The harvests that Europe takes for granted are the fruit of hard-fought innovation," said Schmider.

European cereal fungicide programmes rely on triazole-based solutions, as the effectiveness of alternative treatments have become largely ineffective after septoria quickly developed resistance. Triazole based fungicides have been the backbone in providing a more resilient defence against septoria, but they are also vulnerable to the threat of resistance.

"Triazoles are a key mode of action in the way they fight fungal pathogens and research has demonstrated that by using a variety of triazole-based products, farmers can reduce the risk of septoria resistance. So far this has been instrumental in maintaining European wheat harvests, but if we fail to develop new tools, it will only be a matter of time until resistance strikes," explained Euros Jones, Regulatory Affairs Director, ECPA.

Maintaining an effective range of triazole-based alternatives is also central to managing the environmental risk of wheat production. "Innovation brings more efficient products to the market, and efficient products such as triazoles require a lower frequency and volume of application - this works to reduce environmental risk," commented Schmider. "If a farmer doesn't have the right compounds to work with in the field, they might need to compensate for yield losses by putting more land under the plough, at the expense of natural habitats; they may also have to choose inefficient mechanical treatments, which enlarge the carbon footprint of farming," he added.

"Nomisma looked at wheat production, but the conclusions of the study have significance for the entire range of crops that we grow in Europe. Any loss of important crop protection solutions, where innovation has not found adequate alternatives, would negatively affect the quality, variety, availability and price of our food.

"The Nomisma study reveals the necessarily dynamic contribution science and technology play in support of sustainable agricultural productivity. Pests and pathogens don't give up the fight when scientists develop effective tools; they change and adapt, and so too must our solutions," concluded Jones.

To download the press release, please follow the link: www.ecpa.eu/news-item/agriculture-today/09-12-2012/691/innovation-critical-fight-save-food.

To download the Nomisma report , please follow the link: www.ecpa.eu/article/agriculture-today/assessment-economic-importance-azoles-european-agriculture-wheat-case-stud.