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AGRICULTURE REPORT – October 30, 2001: Dutch Farm Methods Fail to Help Wildlife - 2001-10-29

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A study done in the Netherlands has found that twenty years of farm policies to improve the condition of wildlife have not worked.

Dutch scientists say the affected farmlands are no richer in plant and bird life than other fields. They say the policies also may have led to a decrease in some wildlife populations.

Agricultural scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands supervised the study. They say there is an urgent need for scientists to study the usefulness of such policies. The Dutch team reported its findings in Nature magazine.

The report notes that farming methods to help the environment are very popular. It says they are commonly accepted as a way to deal with the harmful effects of modern agriculture on the environment.

Farmers in the Netherlands have been using environmentally friendly farm methods since Nineteen-Eighty-One. Over the past nine years, the European Union has spent about one-thousand-five-hundred-million dollars a year on this kind of farming. This represents about four percent of the European Union’s common agricultural policy spending. The report says that amount is expected to rise to ten percent before long.

In the new study, the agricultural scientists counted the kinds and numbers of plants, birds and insects in more than one-hundred-fifty fields in the Netherlands. Traditional methods of farming were used on half of the fields. Farmers used environmentally friendly methods on the other fields.

These methods include using fewer chemical products to kill insects or fertilize crops. The farmers also waited until June or July before removing unwanted plants from their fields. This is done to provide more time for birds to build nests and hatch their chicks.

The study found that environmental farming resulted in small increases in bees and other insects. However, it resulted in decreases in some kinds of birds. Lead scientist David Kleijn says he thinks the decreased use of fertilizers limited the number of worms in the soil. Birds depend on the insects for food.

Other scientists note that the Dutch team examined only plants and wildlife. It did not look at the effects on soil or the total environment. Experts say more studies on the effects of environmental farming are needed.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.