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History of the agricultural pesticides industry


The first thing to say about David Watson’s book on agricultural pesticides is that it is a fascinating and absorbing read. The second thing to say is that the title does not fully reflect the subject matter and breadth of the work, or the undoubted scholarship upon which it is based.

Politics and policy in relation to pesticides in agriculture are explored, so are corporate perspectives in relation to the development of the global pesticides industry. But the book is much more than its title suggests: it is essentially a history of the development of the global agricultural pesticides industry, providing a valuable insight into the creation of an influential industry and its numerous products. Names of the companies that have built the pesticides industry leap from the pages, such as Bayer, BASF, Ciba-Geigy, Dow, DuPont, ICI, Monsanto, Rhone Poulenc and Syngenta. They are names that will be familiar to farmers as well as others whose interests lie in industrial chemistry, which is why this book will find a readership that extends well beyond those specifically involved in agriculture.

Pesticides and agriculture: Profit, politics and policy will be of immediate interest to anyone involved in production agriculture, agricultural education or agricultural research. As a resource for academics and those teaching agriculture, as well as students studying the topic, there are few comparable publications and certainly few that have been so well researched. In fact the detail and comprehensiveness of the book are two of its most impressive features, communicating a truly scholarly achievement. Beyond the readership identified above, the book should also be of interest to those who work in sectors allied to or associated with agriculture, such as horticulture, agricultural engineering and environmental sciences, as well as educated lay readers and policy makers involved in matters relating to farming and agricultural pesticides.

The index of this 403-page book could be more detailed and comprehensive to facilitate access to the contents. The work is packed with information - a rapid reading followed by a slower reading is recommended for maximum benefit. The effort will be well worthwhile, as Dr Watson has assembled a large amount of knowledge drawn from multiple sources to make it easy for the reader to gain a broad understanding of the factors that have brought into being the agricultural pesticides industry upon which much of today’s industrialised food system is based.

The structure of the book has been thoughtfully designed to reflect different historical periods, with each assigned to a chapter. For instance, the 20th century period that created the foundation of the modern industry is classified as the Productivist Period (1930- 1973), while later in the book the challenge of sustainable agriculture and the pesticide industry’s response is dealt with in the chapter, Sustainability Paradigm (1974-2017), bringing the story up-to-date. The book clearly achieves its aim of communicating understanding of the development of the agricultural pesticides industry, and the political and policy factors that have affected it. In this latter respect the chapter on Post Productivism (1974-2017) is particularly relevant.

As a publication from the Burleigh Dodds shelves, the book is extremely well produced as a high quality educational/ reference book with negligible typographical errors. It is completely legible and Dr Watson’s writing style is entirely comprehensible. As a window into the history and development of the agricultural pesticides industry, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It has been a joy to review.


Author Dr David Watson

Publisher Burleigh Dodds

Price £190

Reviewer Ralph EarlyHarper Adams University, Newport, Shropshire, TF10 8NB.


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