Integrated pest management, or IPM, is nothing new but it’s critical that farmers can demonstrate how and when they are using it, delegates were told in the opening address at December’s AHDB Agronomists’ Conference. Dominic Kilburn writes.
The challenges in the arable sector are very real; the loss of chemicals, resistance and an ever-growing attack on the use of plant protection products (PPPs) means that we have to be very clear as to how we are using these products as part of an integrated approach, stressed NFU Combinable Crops Board chairman, Tom Bradshaw.
He suggested it was positive that the use of PPPs (in weight) fell in the mid-2000s, although the banning of sulphuric acid had accounted for much of that reduction, and in recent years the figure has started to rise again.
“More worrying for me is the area applied (80,000,000ha). I want you to think today that every time you make a recommendation you are creating a statistic. And at the moment the only statistic that any outsiders have to measure how and why we are using those PPPs, is the number of hectares sprayed.
“So we need a change in mindset that if it’s a marginal decision it’s no longer worthwhile being another statistic.”
Mr Bradshaw said that the environment is more important than ever before in political decision making and that gives the industry an opportunity to show how the UK is growing crops, and why it is different to other parts of the world. However he said that we must be sure we are proud of every decision we make and that we can tell the narrative. “We should be able to tell members of the public how we have grown them, and hopefully get their support.
“If we have to hide something then we are not doing it properly,” he added.
IPM is set in legislation, he pointed out, and therefore it must be used. But it’s far more than just pest management, he stressed. “It’s about rotation, delayed drilling, increased seed rates, cultivation strategies and how we manage our farms to minimise the use of artificial inputs. And recognising the critical importance products have and not being embarrassed about the role they play in supplying safe, affordable food.”
Mr Bradshaw said it is clear that product registration is no longer simply a science based decision, but one that takes in many other factors. “The populist view is driving things – so we know how serious this has got. If backing science is no longer good enough, we really have to make sure we take others with us when using these products,” he pointed out.
On one side of the decision-making process, Mr Bradshaw said there is politics and NGO pressure. He said that NGOs are so effective with their lobbying and we need to learn from them as they are having a critical influence on the PPPs that get registered, and what we can use in this country. “On the other side we have the Voluntary Initiative (VI) and we need to up the participation in it.
“It’s not just about NRoSO and crop protection management plans, it’s our way of trying to demonstrate responsible use of PPPs.
“We have IPM, we have crop assurance and transparency of crop protection use – but, at the moment, if someone comes to my farm and asks how I grow a crop, the first thing I say is ‘with 220kg N/ha, four fungicides and pre-ems’. I won’t tell them about cover crops, resistant varieties and beneficial habitats, but they need to know the story as that is how people will engage with us and we might be able to shift the balance back in favour of regulation and registration of those products.
“Right now, political and NGO pressure seems to be winning that debate,” he added.
Mr Bradshaw suggested that a lot could be learned from organic farmers who can’t turn to the can. “We need to be sure that when we do turn to the can, it’s the last part of a decision-making process rather than, as our detractors would have you believe, the first port of call when we are growing a crop.”
Concluding, Mr Bradshaw said people are needed to prove IPM concepts and they shouldn’t be scared of making mistakes. “If we are making mistakes then everybody should be able to learn from them.
“It’s great to be able to tell the true story, rather than the story
you think everybody wants to hear,” he said.
“We also need a government that signs up to home-produced crops. It’s easy to think we will reduce our environmental footprint by reducing UK production, but all we are doing then is off-shoring our environmental impact somewhere else.
“We have a moral obligation to grow crops in the UK when you look at climate change and our temperate climate. We are well positioned to provide food for others around the world and not just for ourselves.”
*More from the Agronomists’ Conference will appear in the February edition of Farmers Guide.