The unprecedented legal challenge which overturned the metaldehyde slug pellet ban made headline news. However, there are some in the industry who have already moved on from the decision, and are less affected by the High Court order which formally overturned the December 2018 ruling. Heather Briggs reports.
In general, the farming industry has moved on since metaldehyde was banned, says Frontier crop production technical lead Paul Fogg (right), who was heavily involved in the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG).
Speaking about the overturning of the withdrawal of the active used for slug control, he said that one of the benefits of the Stewardship initiative was that it brought together all stakeholders with an interest in developing a sustainable position for metaldehyde.
As a result, they worked together to deliver significant improvements to the way in which metaldehyde was recommended and used, which ultimately afforded the industry with a long stay of execution of the active.
Dr Fogg says: “The time with the Stewardship was put to good effect to ensure that a suitable alternative was put in place before the active was withdrawn.
“Good quality ferric phosphate baits are now providing crops with a reliable level of protection from slug damage, while avoiding issues with water.
“As such, we now have a new strategy which does not rely on metaldehyde.”
Of course, he insists, this active also needs to be used responsibly, so growers still need to follow an IPM strategy, looking at risk factors, trapping slugs and ensuring thresholds are hit before application.
One of the concerns originally raised by many growers when ferric phosphate was first used on-farm was no visible signs of dead slugs and their trails on the surface following application, he says.
Growers have now become accustomed to not seeing trails of slime as a sign of control.
This is because the active ingredient works in a different way to metaldehyde, with the slugs going underground to die.
Despite the move towards other slug control methods, having metaldehyde as a different mode of action will always be useful to reduce the reliance on a single mode of action and to help minimise the risk of resistance potentially developing, Dr Fogg points out.
He believes some people may wish to use it early in the season, but his advice will be to follow the new strategy using ferric phosphate.
However, he insists, there is still a lot of uncertainty over the long term future of metaldehyde.
“The decision to withdraw it was overturned in a judicial review which challenged the legal process.
“Although it has not been withdrawn in the EU and is still available in other EU states, as yet we do not know if it has a long-term future in the UK with perhaps different label restrictions, or whether it will be withdrawn again.”
The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) was disappointed by the decision, taken by the former Secretary of State, Michael Gove in December 2018, to withdraw all outdoor uses of metaldehyde, according to the organisation’s head of agronomy and crop protection sector, Hazel Doonan.
This was because it meant that there was only one active substance, ferric phosphate, for use as part of an integrated approach to control slugs which are a major pest in many crops in the UK.
“The decision taken by Michael Gove was deemed unlawful in July for procedural reasons and AIC understands that the Government intends to retake the decision as to whether metaldehyde products should be authorised in the UK according to legal requirements as soon as possible,” she says.
“While the outcome means that sale and distribution of metaldehyde products will now expire on 31 December 2020, AIC members have worked to ensure that any stocks of metaldehyde were moved as required onto farm ahead of the 30 June 2019 deadline.
“The date for the storage and use of existing metaldehyde stocks reverts to the date that was in place during the re-evaluation, 31 December 2021, until further notification.”
Ms Doonan adds that the AIC has made the decision, together with the Crop Protection Association (CPA), to fund the agronomic update system for autumn 2019.
“Feedback from water companies indicates that the agronomic updates have been very useful in helping water companies with abstraction management.
“The information provided by agronomists on metaldehyde use on a weekly basis is used by water companies to better plan water abstraction around metaldehyde use.”