In February, the President of the European Commission withdrew the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Regulation (SUR). International media declared it a win for the agricultural community, but not everyone would agree with that analysis. The industry needs strong pesticide regulations. We need to aim to use as few pesticides as possible, but the regulations need to be based on science.

The SUR may be paused for now, but it has not gone away and it will be back.

Here is a timeline of what has happened so far with SUR.

The regulation was adopted on 22 June, 2022. The proposal targeted a 50% reduction in the use and risk of pesticides by 2030. This replaced the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive and made the targets legally binding.

Member states were to set their own reduction targets to achieve the EU-wide targets.

There was a focus on eliminating some of the more hazardous chemicals from use.


Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is seen as a key tool in reducing the use of pesticides.

IPM puts the emphasis on looking at alternatives to chemical use.These include choosing disease resistant varieties or using alternative control such as mechanical weeders.

Many farmers in Ireland implement IPM as standard practice.

Sensitive areas

The SUR would have prohibited pesticide usage in sensitive public areas including parks, playgrounds, sports grounds and protected areas such as ecologically sensitive areas being preserved for threatened pollinators. Spraying near historical monuments was also to be banned. This aspect of the regulation would have affected many tillage areas in Ireland.

Independent advice

The regulation also outlined the need for farmers and other professional users to get independent professional advice on pesticide use. This would be a particular issue for farmers in Ireland as there is currently a shortage of agronomists here.

A national focus on agriculture’s livestock sectors has led to reduced numbers of sudents studying crop science.

This has created a severe shortage of people to fill agronomy jobs for merchants and co-ops across the country, so getting qualified independent advisers would pose a challenge.

Ireland on target

On 8 September 2023, the Teagasc Crops Forum heard that Ireland had already met its target to reduce pesticide use and risk by 50% by 2030. Andrew Owen Griffiths, director general of Health and Food Safety at the European Commission noted then that in a four-year period, the EU had cut its pesticide use by 33%. The most up-to-date figures were from 2021.


In late 2023, many member states kicked back against the SUR. On 22 November, the European Parliament voted on and rejected the SUR.

On 6 February, 2024, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen withdrew the SUR. She said that a different approach and more discussion was needed on the regulation.

Regulation will be redrawn

However, farmers and the industry should keep in mind that the regulation is not going away.

Once EU elections are over in June and MEPs take their seats, it will be back on the table again. At present, the Irish Farmers Journal understands that the Department of Agriculture is working away as normal on its targets.

It is essential that pesticide use in this country is safe and that pesticides are not used inappropriately.

However, the new Regulation may be more practical when member states go back to the drawing board.

And we must not forget that domestic users, gardeners, forestry, railway lines, county councils and amenities are big users of pesticide products.

Cutting down on these uses of pesticides first – and ensuring the untrained users are not using pesticides – could be a big help in meeting our national pesticide targets and minding our environment.

Remember, a member of the public can walk into a shop, buy a pesticide, spray it without any training or adherence to regulations, and then throw the leftovers down the drain. No-one is inspecting this cohort of users.

In contrast, farmers must complete formal training, buy the product from a trained distributor, spray from a sprayer which has been tested, adhere to buffer zones, record all products used, and be prepared for a Department inspection at any time.

While the inspection and records regime may be laborious for farmers, it means they are trained and recognised as professional users.