Project Vemmenhög: helping farmers reduce pesticide concentrations in Vemmenhög, Sweden with information

Page Last modified 26 Apr 2023
6 min read
Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences guided farmers in applying and handling pesticides, using best available techniques to reduce emissions to local streams.


Pesticides in Sweden’s aquatic environments were first found in the mid-1980s when monitoring studies detected them in streams and rivers at higher concentrations than anticipated (Kreuger and Brink, 1988). This raised public concern over diffuse pesticide pollution from agricultural fields to ground- and surface waters. It also prompted the launch of the Vemmenhög project: an initiative aiming to reduce pesticides in surface waters by providing farmers with information on correct pesticide handling and application.

In 1998, about 8,400 tonnes of pesticides were sold in Sweden, about 20% of which (1,688 tonnes) was used in agriculture (Fogelberg, 2001). Half of that volume was used in the county of Scania in southern Sweden, where the most intense agricultural activity takes place. The main crops are cereals as well as lower volumes of sugar beet crops, rapeseed, legumes and maize.


Project measures

The Vemmenhög project was launched in 1990 by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) with the aim to reduce pesticide concentrations in surface waters in a small agricultural catchment in Scania with over 90% arable land (Kreuger and Nilsson, 2001). At the time, 23 farms were located within the catchment area, with another 12 farms located near the catchment boundaries (Kreuger, 1998). The project also investigated how pesticides were transported from the fields to surface waters and entailed close collaboration with farmers to gather information on crops, and fertiliser and pesticide use (Kreuger and Nilsson, 2001). Around 50 pesticides were monitored in the early years of the project, of which 35 had been applied to agricultural land in the catchment.

In the winter of 1994 to 1995, local farmers were informed of best management practices for pesticide handling and application, adapted to local conditions at farm level. This included the correct handling of spraying equipment and application procedures, and guidance against the use of herbicides to kill weeds in farmyards for aesthetic purposes. This increased farmers’ awareness around avoiding point sources of pesticide pollution and reducing environmental damage.   

Recommended strategies to mitigate pesticide losses to the environment during pesticide application were based on the motto ‘every drop counts’. These strategies involved controlling emissions at every stage, including pesticide storage and filling, and using and cleaning pesticide spray equipment. Farmers were also advised on testing the performance of spray equipment. In addition, they were recommended to designate wells, drainage wells and open ditches ‘spray-free’ buffer zones. Biobeds were constructed on the farms as sites for re-filling and cleaning spray equipment to capture accidental pesticide splashes and spills (KemI, 2000; Kreuger and Nilsson, 2001).

In 1997, several of these mitigation strategies were translated into national regulations on pesticide use and handling in Sweden[1]. The following year, a separate programme enshrined economic incentives — giving farmers financial compensation during a 5-year period if they agreed to comply with risk reduction measurements within agriculture (Kreuger and Nilsson, 2001). In addition, the Swedish sugar industry launched an ‘environmental management system’ that gave the growers of sugar beets, a pesticide-intensive cash crop, an additional economic incentive to manage pesticides sustainably.

Annual meetings were held with farmers to report on pesticide concentration trends in the surface water. During these meetings, farmers were updated on technical developments in spray equipment and new regulations regarding pesticide use. To date, pesticides in surface waters are still being monitored through a national monitoring programme that is also used to evaluate the effects of other campaigns, such as a recent one focusing on the herbicide diflufenican (Boström and Gönczi, 2021).


Evidence of impact

Average pesticide concentrations in streams in the Vemmenhög catchment area fell by more than 90% over the course of the project, as shown in Figure 1. The first fall in pesticide levels was seen in 1995, coinciding with the onset of the site-specific guidance on preventing pesticide release to local surface waters. The second fall in pesticide levels was seen in 1998, after the economic incentives were implemented. Over the same period, the amounts of pesticides used in the catchment area remained roughly the same. Hence, a significant reduction of pesticide load into surface water was accomplished by avoiding point sources through better pesticide management, without decreasing pesticide use on agricultural fields.

Figure 1. Average total concentration of pesticides in surface water in the Vemmenhög area vs. applied amounts analysed (1992-2018)

Note: The vertical bars represent the time-weighted mean concentration of active substances, as measured from May to September each year between 1992 and 2018 (except May to June in 1993). The dots represent the total amount of active substances (of those analysed) that were applied annually on field in the Vemmenhög area during the same period (1992-2018).

Source: Kreuger (2023).

Explore different chart formats and data here

Key to successfully reducing pesticide levels was the effort made to communicate and collaborate with the farmers, encouraging them to change their working practices. All the information discussed with the farmers was confidential so that any issues could be resolved directly on site at the farm.


Lessons learned

  • Targeted information and advice, and continuous dialogue with farmers, enabled good practices in managing pesticide use on farms to be successfully implemented in Vemmenhög, Sweden.
  • Economic incentives drove farmers to embrace good practices.
  • The positive results showing that ‘every drop counts’ are still used to motivate farmers, authorities and advisors working with pesticides.  
Timeframe 1990-2000

Guidance was provided to farmers mainly in the period 1994-1995.

Long-term monitoring of pesticides in surface waters from 1990 to date.
Scale of measure Farm: The project was implemented at farm-level in a small catchment area in southern Sweden.

Mitigation strategies were implemented at the national level through national regulations on pesticide use and handling, and economic incentives to encourage routine good practice.
Pesticide(s) targeted  The measure does not target specific pesticides or a group of pesticides.
The measure was farm-specific.
Measure led by This initiative was created by a small group of researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and an agricultural adviser.
The project group collaborated directly with farmers.


[1] The national regulations were since updated by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, with the most recent version adopted in 2015.


Boström, G. and Gönczi, M., 2021, Utvärdering av effekter av diflufenikankampanjen 2018-2020, CKB rapport No 2021:1, Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet, SLU Centrum för kemiska bekämpningsmedel i miljön (CKB), Uppsala, Sweden ( accessed 23 March 2023.

Fogelberg, F., 2001, Research on pest control and pesticide reduction in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands — ongoing work and new ideas for the future, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences ( accessed 11 April 2023.

KemI, 2000, Management of chemicals and pesticides in Sweden: national profile, Kemikalieinspektionen, Solna, Sweden ( accessed 20 February 2023.

Kreuger, J., 1998, ‘Pesticides in stream water within an agricultural catchment in southern Sweden, 1990-1996’, Science of the Total Environment 216(3), pp. 227-251 (DOI: 10.1016/S0048-9697(98)00155-7).

Kreuger, J., 2023, Vemmenhög project — average total pesticide concentrations vs applied amounts analysed.

Kreuger, J. and Brink, N., 1988, ‘Losses of pesticides from agriculture’, in: Pesticides: food and environmental implications — proceedings of a symposium, Neuherberg, 24-27 November 1987, jointly organized by IAEA and FAO, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, pp. 101-112.

Kreuger, J. and Nilsson, E., 2001, ‘Catchment scale risk-mitigation experiences — key issues for reducing pesticide transport to surface waters’, in: Pesticide behaviour in soils and water — proceedings of a symposium organised by the British Crop Protection Council, Brighton, UK, 13-15 November 2001, British Crop Protection Council, Farnham, UK, pp. 319-324.


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