This is part of the book “Stéphane Foucart and néonicotinoïds. Le Monde and disinformation 1“ where I show the journalist misinforms (= false or misleading statements) the reader. More specifically, we show here that he presents a false view of agriculture (1.I.4.). All quotes are translated (by me), except the ones marked between [ ] in the french version (french quotes are to numerous to be marked in this one).

As you have seen, S. Foucart does not provide any convincing evidence to justify his categorical assertion, the uselessness of the NNI. This is all the more obvious when you listen to the agricultural world.

a. Systemic insecticids are not systematic

First, farmers do not consistently use NNIs. They only use them if they feel they need them. Thus, they may not apply treatment to some crops and put it on others. For example, Hector explained to me that they used NNIs on rapeseed, but not on corn:

“- It was not the same insects that were targeted. The semi period is not the same either. Historically, I had no pressure on corn that justified using coatings. “

David did not use it on corn or wheat, because it did not have enough pests to justify the additional cost, probably because it is located in the Massif Central:

“- And there are no aphids in those regions?

– There probably are, but for us it’s not a problem. Afterwards, for us, mountain breeders. You would contact colleagues, well now there are more, who were making beets in the plain of Limagne (beetroot, corn seeds)… they were on they used NNIs, there is no problem. ” (David)

As we said, NNIs are not some sort of magic solution that would always increase returns. It is a relevant tool in some cases and not in others, like all tools. This does not prevent it from being able to be formidably effective in the right contexts.

b. Indisputable efficiency of neonicotioids

None of the farmers interviewed questioned the effectiveness of NNIs and all users praised them. This would have been most evident last year, when aphids, taking advantage of the ban on NNIs on beets (among others), infested the fields. According to Arthur, the yield loss would have been 30% on average and could go up to 70%, even with an irrigation system (since the year had also been very dry).

“So someone who tells you that neonicotinoids are not effective or are counterproductive…

– Ah well, he’s a liar. I see it, it’s day and night.

– OK. How long did you see it after? When did you see your first drop in yields?[…]

– I remember, during this moratorium period, I tried, in certain fields, a coated variety [with NNI] […] and next to a variety without. Yeah, you were losing 20% of your plants… It was clear.” (Etienne)


“Last year I did 75 tonnes [of beets per hectare], because of jaundice, when we should have done 100 tonnes. […]

At 25 euros a tonne, you need to do at least 85 tonnes on average to make money. […] The grubbing is worth a minimum of 250-260 € / ha, so it is not neutral. The seeds are very expensive. […] We are around € 300 of seeds per hectare. […] There are phytos, there is tillage… There is also the availability of land… […] Beets, I ask myself the question. It’s interesting because, agronomically, I can’t just make wheat, it’s not possible… […]

So today, why I keep beet culture… it’s also because there are factories nearby, I’m also convinced that our sugar, we have land to make them, when we make 100 tonnes per hectare of beets is not neutral […]. A few days ago the [advisor] from Tereos came to ask me what I wanted to do1, that’s when she told me that I still had two years of commitment, I told her said, I do not do more, I do the same, I do 8.5 (hectares) […], on the other hand, I need the means, that is to say that if I do not have neonicotinoids and I take a header like last year or like others who made 30 tonnes [per hectare] in other regions, if I don’t have the neonicotinoids, I stop. […] If they don’t give us the technical means to make a profit… I’m not going to take a header for fun. It’s not possible, I don’t have the capacity to take a header with beets.” (Ferdinand)


“Yes I use them, I use them [NNI] as much as possible.

– Do you see a difference, compared to when you don’t use them? […]

– Since it was forbidden in wheat, I have been invaded by leafhoppers every year. […] As for the aphid, last year there are plots where I [didn’t apply coating because insects infestation] was far below the threshold. And well, last year I got into these loopholes… We do harvest yield mapping. As soon as there is a [plot were I didn’t used insecticide], we fall to 50 quintals whereas these are plots that have 95 minimum potential without forcing. These are aphids.

Late virus infection is observed. Because aphids aren’t just bad in the fall. If you leave a small population all winter long, behind it is a nuisance. It is characterized by late virosis. I have two [plots] next to each other last year. One that I treated, one that I didn’t, I have 25 quintals left. The two pieces were held in much the same fashion from A to Z. […]

– What were you using NNIs on?

– On beet, all the beets. We have a waiver this year, so I’m using them again. Not so much for aphids. I didn’t see aphids as the first element [problematic pest] the day they banned it. For me what was going to be problematic, and I still think it will be problematic in the future […], it is the underground, it is all that is in the ground. Wireworms, blaniules… there are plenty of bugs […] things that no farmer has known [a posteriori clarification: “pests that few farmers in business today have had to complain about, but which were a real problem in the past”], because chemicals have been used since the 1970s to control them. We used Curater, we used Temik. We put that… The farmers were told at the time “it’s bad for nobody”, we used it with bare hands, without protection, we put that in the sowing line… […] The NNI compared to this was a breakthrough. […]” (Igor)

“When you experiment with and without and you see that without the culture is ravaged and that there is no problem with it, it’s visual enough that you don’t need another argument to believe it. The same in cereals. When you have aphid on wheat or barley and your crop catches jaundice, your plants do not develop and then, when spring arrives, everything is yellow and there is nothing growing and only half of your parcel is [metaphorically] burnt, you realize that the product, the gaucho, still had its effectiveness…” (Nicolas)

c. The ecological advantage of NNIs

Beyond the purely insecticidal interest of NNI, there are also several advantages linked to its mode of application: coating. This makes it a very precise insecticide (compared to other insecticides) which, on the one hand, spares farmers, who no longer have to spread, and on the other hand (largely) non-target insects, including the famous “culture auxiliars”. Authorizing NNIs on beets also has an agronomic advantage: diversifying crop rotations.

A precise insecticide

The fact that the pesticide is inside the coating greatly limits the exposure of farmers, who do not have to handle hazardous products and spray them. This is a theme that Igor has developed a lot:

“I remember my dad using a bad smelling product a lot. It was Karate-K at the time [1980-90?]. I remember at the time, farmers were not told the product was risky. He had to watch us and had a spray to do. He put us on the spray and he was in the tractor, we were in a cage, but we were on the spray. When there was wind in the wrong direction, well we ate the product. […] I remember he treated the same plot up to 5 times. Since the neonics, me today the plot, I treat it twice. We still have the potential for harm if we continue to mismanage populations. We can still increase the treatments. […] If we ban them and the beets remain, the beets will have a minimum of 5 passages [if there are aphids as in 2019-2020]. In the best case. If we want it to work.” (Igor)

He also explains to me that NNIs are interesting because they are selective:

“One glaring thing [in the 1990s] was that an insecticide sometimes does more harm than good. Because insecticides [foliar] are not very selective. In general, when you put an insecticide, it kills everyone, it kills all the insects. And that there are plenty of insects out there, but they’re not harmful. And that if we kill everyone, well, the first to come back, it will be the pest of the moment against which we want to fight. And that he will have all the room for him. All the strata will be unoccupied, so it can go everywhere. Whereas if we do not make the insecticide, 90% of the strata will already be occupied, where it will not be able to take hold, because there is already someone and to fire someone is not easy. And suddenly it will be less harmful if we do not use insecticide than if we do. It’s not easy to assess that1. When the need arises, I observe a lot. I have yellow pits, I’m going to see the insects in the ground… This is a huge observation, way more than average. When I feel there is a risk, I go and I have a very high risk tolerance when it comes to bugs.

– And yet you used the NNI?

– And for me the NNIs It is the most insecticide… it is one of the few insecticides that is selective. All the others are not selective for me. NNIs coat the plant… the only critters that will be impacted are those that will try to eat the plant. Apart from the insects which feed on the pollen if the plant is very small and the dose of NNI is too high, which could have happened for sunflowers, for corn… But for example, in wheat it bothers no one. Flowering, no one or almost no one picks it up. It’s not embarrassing.” (Igor)

The benefit of global pest management

Igor also explains to me that there is also a global logic to crop protection:

“Beyond that, all the bugs in general, it is managed, not at the level of the plot or at the very very local level. We manage global populations. You even have to see that at the French level. We manage global populations and the fact of not putting neonics on wheat. The fact of having banned NNIs everywhere, not only on beets, also on cereals, it allows aphids to remain on wheat without being harmful. So we leave the population, the population increases. Instead of starting from 0, it starts from a good minimum. And suddenly it explodes… the population increases are exponential and suddenly it becomes harmful the more quickly there is an important tank end.” (Igor)

He takes the example of flea beetles that are said to have ceased to be managed because some products have been banned and they have become resistant to others. They would take the opportunity to proliferate from the west:

“Little by little, they are gaining ground, whereas {if we had] […] had the tools to manage them properly from the start, their nuisance would have been limited to the west of France, and we would put in product that ‘there, and there today, I have flea beetles on rapeseed, sunflower, beet… I have damage on these three crops. And damage that can go… rapeseed, it can go as far as the disappearance of the crop if it is not treated […]; sunflower, it goes until a total loss of the feet […]; and beetroot, […] there is a small loss of yield up to 15-20% of the plants can be lost.” (Igor)

Beets and agronomy

Finally, beet, which is the crop which seems most endangered by the ban on NNIs, has interesting characteristics for diversifying crops and organizing the farm. First, planting different crops at different times of the year helps control weeds. This is called rotation. François told us the principle:

“Do you use it like a natural herbicide, actually?”

– No, it’s to break the cycle. It prevents you from ending up with problems that you cannot handle. […] Rotation does not prevent vulpines from existing, it prevents them from overgrowing so much we can no longer manage them. Since they grow together with the crop, they can end up killing the crop completely. We then speak of a “dead end”: this is when we have sown, but cannot to reap. […]
You can easily get overwhelmed. We let a [vulpin, a weed] pass, the next shot we don’t have one, we have 100, and the next shot we have 10,000, so it quickly becomes unmanageable. That’s all the point of rotations.” (Baumann 2021, p.49)

Rotation is also an organizational asset. This allows work and management of manure stocks for breeders to be better distributed over the year:

“If you produce 15,000m3 of slurry and only have 5,000m3 to store it, you have to empty it three times a year.” (Ferdinand)

Other crops could play the same role as beets, but they all have downsides:

“The CAP forces us to make peas. This year was the disaster in peas, I think they made 30 quintals for the best. […]

Then you have to make vegetables… but I have 8 ha of beets which I do quite easily, which I do on my own. If I had 8 ha of vegetables I would never do them on my own. […] It’s too much manpower, it’s too much […] risk, investment all that. […] We are starting to see a little sunflower.” (Ferdinand)

The potato seems interesting, being able to bring in significant sums, but there are several difficulties: it requires a lot of material, would break the structure of the soil and impoverish the land. (Ferdinand) Finally, beets also have an agronomic advantage, particularly in soil conservation agriculture.

“Beets are not a legume, but they work the soil differently. Unlike wheat, which has roots that go to… they are microfilaments that will go 3-4 meters deep. The beet will be a big pivot that will destroy the surface surface of the soil. […]

– It’s like radishes in cover crops?

– Exactly. […] In deep soils we don’t give a damn, but there are plots with pebbles and clay, for which it is interesting from an agronomic point of view.” (Ferdinand)

I will come back to this very interesting topic a little later. Finally, there are a multitude of other interests in beet cultivation: the pulps then make feed for livestock, they are essential for making industrial dehydrators viable, which would make alfalfa less profitable. In short, an entire agro-industrial system would be torn apart. In addition, they could become more and more interesting with the increase in demand for biomass for methanizers.

d. An agricultural world defending beet NNIs

Almost all of the farmers were in favor of re-authorizing NNIs on beets. As was the FNSEA (the main syndicate) and the Coordination Rurale. Only the Confederation Paysanne is opposed to it. This is also what came out every time the subject was brought up. For example:

“- Did you use neonicotinoids?

– Not only have I used them, but I defend them, compared to what we had used previously. NNI is a great product, because it is incorporated into the seed. […] I don’t know if you see a beet seed […], it’s a very small star. It’s 3 mm in diameter […]. […] When you add up what we do in NNI, it’s 50 g for one hectare, 10,000 m²! In the past, before the NNI, we put 15 kg of Temik. It was a product, it killed worms. And we put on the row of beets. […] Today, it’s [the NNIs] only on the seed. So it’s tiny. And leave us alone, there is no bee in the beets, there is no flowering, there is no flower, there is no effect on the bees. […] What nonsense is it?” (Bernard)


“For me it is an aberration to have removed them. We put in such a low dose… When we compare to the dose of insecticides we put in the open (field?). For me, removing insecticides today is one to two insecticides in the fall for wheat. For beets, the year it was deleted, I stopped because I saw that the alternatives were not working. I made two Teppeki. […] I have neighbors who did [several] Teppeki, it didn’t work out either, we were all in the same boat. The Teppeki does not work well enough when there is a strong aphid pressure. The Movento either. There is no product that is enough. NNI when you see the amount you put in and the impact it has on flora and fauna… Finally the question arises for a minute no more. When we observe a little… In wheat, when I make an insecticide, I see that my population of beetles, I have a lot less, I see that I had spiders before, the spiders they are dead… the insecticides have side effects. And when we had the NNI coatings, all these populations, they were there, they increased. And worse, that means that the partridges, which feed on all these critters, well they have more to eat, the pheasants are the same… It is in our interest to leave the NNI on all non-foraged crops.

– Did you read the studies?

– I read one in full, Chizé, I read passages from ITSAP studies, not all, I also read passages from Chizé, the CNRS, the History Museum natural, from what they did in common… I see that with me it does not happen at all like that. This is the first point [context : he is also a beekeeper]. I note that most of the ITSAP studies focus on things we weren’t allowed to do before the NNI ban and that they have continued to study these things when we weren’t. no longer had the right to do them [Comment: “the things they put in studies to be changed by the practices they tried in their studies were impossible in the fields, what point?]. Coating of sunflowers, coating of rapeseed… […] Indeed, if we put NNI at doses that we have never put in the fields around rapeseed, which is a foraged plant, and that rapeseed is not big and stuff and that we simulate in the lab, indeed, the bee that eats it will be disoriented. But even the ITSAP studies at the time (2015), the last ones I haven’t read, […] the things they put in the studies, it was not practicable in the fields, it was not possible.” (Igor)

e. Summary

Let us resume:

  • It is true that NNIs are not always useful. For example, when the pressure from pests is not sufficient to justify their use or if the farmer has been able to put in place an agronomic solution to reduce it. In fact, when it does, farmers simply don’t use these pesticides.
  • Just because a farmer uses NNI for one crop does not mean that he uses it for all. Systemic insecticide does not mean systematic insecticide.
  • NNIs are crucial for beets. All of the beet growers I interviewed used NNIs.
  • Farmer users have a very positive image of NNIs, in particular because of their selectivity. The others did not express an opinion.

Beyond all of these elements, one obvious question endangers the journalist’s claims: If they were unnecessary, why would farmers use them? To address this problem and make his story credible, S. Foucart needs to neutralize the words of farmers.