PARIS, Jan 30 (Reuters) - France, the European Union's biggest agricultural producer, has delayed a target to halve pesticide use to 2025 from 2018 after plans to curb their deployment failed, the farm minister said on Friday.
France had set a voluntary target of halving pesticide use in the decade to 2018 but it has in fact risen, partly due to adverse weather conditions.
Like the EU as a whole, France has sought to become less dependent on pesticides, which are blamed for posing health and environmental risks. The EU has, for example, banned certain crop chemicals known as neonicotinoids suspected of harming bees.
The French government has pushed back to 2025 the timeline for halving pesticide use and added an intermediate target of a 25 percent fall by 2020, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said in an interview in daily newspaper Liberation.
The targets remain non-binding on farmers but Le Foll said his revamped plan, to be detailed later on Friday, would encourage a change in practices by expanding a network of pioneer farms experimenting with alternative techniques.
"We have to diffuse these good practices," he said. "We are going to increase the number of these farms to 3,000."
Some 2,000 farms already in the network on average saw pesticide use fall 12 percent in 2013, a year that saw a 9 percent rise in total use in France, he said.
The minister says pesticide usage can be cut both through technology that allows farmers to apply crop treatments more precisely, and through biological control that replaces chemicals with natural organisms.
In its new plan, the government will also add a binding target on pesticide suppliers to reduce their volumes by 20 percent over five years, encouraging them to shift towards selling farmers services to reduce chemical use, he said.
Companies will face penalties if they fail to meet the target under a certificate scheme to be developed, he said.
Representatives of crop farmers argue that tightening restrictions on pesticide use have left them with few viable options for containing crop pests and diseases.
"Arbitrarily reducing the quantities of phyto-sanitary products is illusory as long as the solutions for achieving that goal are not available," grain farmers lobby Orama said in a statement. (Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Mark Potter)