10/3/2021

“Banning is not always best” – our submission to the Draft National Action Plan on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides

Sugar Beet (1)

The use of pesticides is hotly debated, but arguments around it are often absolute and lack nuance. The government derogation for farmers to use the neonicotinoid thiamethoxam on sugar beet this year (dependent on evidence of potentially yield threatening levels of pests) created lots of headlines, plenty of outrage and, at the time of writing, 50,597 signatures to reverse the decision.

This is to protect their crop from the beet yellows virus spread by aphids, a serious problem that has significantly reduced yields in recent years. This issue alone presents the complexity of the situation. A pest damaged crop will take up less fertiliser than that applied, as yields have fallen by 20-25%, and as a result this excess fertiliser could leach from the soil, negatively impacting water quality.

We used our submission to make the case for a more nuanced and balanced approach. Each time a product is banned (or, indeed, approved) it will have direct and indirect impacts. One such example is banning the herbicide glyphosate. There are undoubtedly some benefits, but little attention is given to the potential changes it will bring about – how much more ploughing will take place? What will this do to carbon emissions? To soil health? To water quality?

Changes to the environment do not happen in isolation and we are calling for a Comparative Risk Assessment to be undertaken before such decisions are made. We also encourage the government to work with manufacturers and users to develop mitigation measures whilst alternative solutions are developed, rather than waiting until emergency solutions are needed.

Where the Precautionary Principle exists – acting to prevent potential harm before it happens – so too should the Innovation Principle, ensuring progress and invention aren’t hampered. Without being part of the Common Agricultural Policy, we can move away from the hazard-based approach used by the EU and focus on a risk-based approach.

There is much good work to build on, particularly the progress made by the Voluntary Initiative and Pesticides Forum, but there is more than could be done to support farmers in making the right decisions. By improving Environmental Information Sheets farmers and agronomists would be empowered to choose which products they use according to where and how they are using them. Those spraying near water can use a product with low aquatic invertebrate toxicity and low leachability, or if they are to be used near a pollen and nectar mix, a product with lower invertebrate toxicity would be preferable.

Better communication of the benefits and effectiveness of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can also help improve the sustainable use of pesticides by overcoming trepidation amongst farmers. The benefits crop rotations provide for soil health are well-known, but their use in preventing pest build-up is probably less so.

Further research on the benefits and risks of an IPM approach on different farming systems will hopefully provide clarity and reassurance. Similarly, if we want farmers to embrace this move, financial security is important. With several thousand people signing petitions about thiamethoxam, perhaps increased public awareness could support premiums for crops grown using IPM.

You can read our full submission here >

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Comments

Pesticide usage

at 18:17 on 13/03/2021 by DOMINIC GARDNER

I agree with Peter Thompson and would add as a conservation minded farmer and pesticide user as well as actually doing applications with a sprayer. We need product choice to reflect the multiple numbers of issues in single fields such as water course , enhanced field margin , bees, invertebrates' we face many times in a day spraying. Investing into research of things like real time spot pulse spraying along with improved varieties with enhanced rotations and soil /crop resilience can reduce the volume and need to use the products.

Re: Pesticide usage

at 8:03 on 12/03/2021 by Alastair Leake, GWCT Director of Policy

A well informed and environmentally aware agronomist would always be looking to minimise the impact of any crop protection decision choice. It is important that with the extensive knowledge that GWCT has that we continue to push to ensure this is ever in the consciousness of every agronomist. Environmental Information Sheets were originally championed by GWCT within the Voluntary Initiative to give an extra layer of information in an easily accessible form. We chose to raise them in our submission to the consultation on the National Action Plan for Pesticides to re-fresh the debate on their usefulness.

Pesticide usage

at 10:04 on 11/03/2021 by Peter Thompson

In the above article you write "By improving Environmental Information Sheets farmers and agronomists would be empowered to choose which products they use according to where and how they are using them. Those spraying near water can use a product with low aquatic invertebrate toxicity and low leachability, or if they are to be used near a pollen and nectar mix, a product with lower invertebrate toxicity would be preferable". My question is, why would you not always choose a product with low aquatic toxicity and low leachability and lower invertebrate toxicity? Do you really only need to be careful next to pollen & nectar mixes? What about hedgerows with a wide range of flowering shrubs, field margins, flowering crops, flowering wild bird seed mixes etc, etc. Also, your own research has shown how many insects spend much of the year in the field itself. Just to remind you that Honey bees often forage up to 3 miles away from the hive and Bumble bees can forage up to a mile. If all aspects of IPM have failed, and a farmer has to spray, then surely he or she should choose the most selective and least damaging (or potentially damaging) product available, regardless of the position of the crop being sprayed or the whereabouts of the wildlife habitats? I would go further and say that even when using these "less harmful products" the boom should be turned off on headlands and when next to any non-cropped area.

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