Effective weed control is essential for a safe and healthy environment and to ensure amenity areas are fit for purpose. Weeds can cause havoc on streets - especially paved areas - in transport networks, airports, parks and on sports surfaces, but they should be dealt with by an integrated approach using appropriate chemical, non-chemical and cultural methods.
When it comes to chemicals, a mainstay for amenity weed control is glyphosate - an active ingredient that has been in the spotlight over the past year. Its use has been extended for the time being but we could still be looking at "Glexit" - the banning of the world's most utilised herbicide.
The vote by the European Commission's standing committee to keep or remove glyphosate was supposed to take place on 24 June 2016 - the day after the UK was due to vote on remaining or leaving the EU. It was actually five days later, on 29 June, and just 24 hours before the license was due to expire that an extension was granted for a further 18 months to allow the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to prepare its scheduled safety assessment. The European Commission also proposed certain restrictions for glyphosate during that 18-month stay of execution.
Glyphosate products thoroughly tested
Asked about safety, Monsanto technical development manager Manda Sansom says: "Glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides are among the most thoroughly tested and evaluated pesticide products in the world. Their 40-year history of safe use is supported by one of the most extensive worldwide human health, crop residue and environmental databases ever compiled on any pesticide."
It all started in 2015, when the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic to humans".
In May last year a co-analysis by the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and WHO found that glyphosate was "unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet" but said it remained less clear about occupational exposure. By then several EU countries rebelled against a proposal by Brussels to relicense the chemical.
Complete Weed Control franchisee (South Wales) Alan Abel describes the situation as "totally ridiculous". He adds: "Just a few misjudged words by the WHO led the green campaigners and the Soil Association to get on the bandwagon and lobby MEPs to outlaw glyphosate. No science was useful in this argument."
Abel also points out that glyphosate has "revolutionised agriculture across the globe and has had many use changes over the years since its inception."
Back in the 1970s the cost of glyphosate was prohibitive. Five litres cost £95, making it a product to be used only on special occasions. Today it is the stock-in-trade of the amenity industry, given that the sector no longer has triazines, amitroles, diurons and paraquats - the products that used to be staple weedkillers on industrial sites and street pavements up until the 1990s. Today the average price per five litres of gylphosate is around £25.
The amendments to glyphosate authorisation passed in June 2016 require member states to ensure that plant-protection products containing glyphosate do not contain the co-formulant POE-tallowamine, sometimes referred to as POE-t or ETA. It means there is currently a transitional period in force for the sale and distribution of products containing ETA up to 30 June 2017 and for disposal, storage and use of existing stocks until 30 June 2018.
Added to this, member states have been instructed to pay special attention to groundwater in vulnerable areas, with particular respect to non-crop uses, and risk from the use in specific areas referred to in article 12(a) of directive 2009/128/EC - the Sustainable Use Directive. Herbicide authorisations issued in the UK by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate have taken these risks into account, so using gylphosate products according to the label does comply with this EU regulation.
Read the label? It is a requirement - and the label on glyphosate products stipulates that only "spot treatment" is permitted. "That's all well and good if people stuck to the rules," says Abel. "Sadly that's not the case and people are still 'blanket spraying' - putting glyphosate and the whole of the amenity industry into jeopardy."
Abel points out with pride that Complete Weed Control has championed spot treatment on hard surfaces since 1997, using the Weed It system to apply glyphosate in the correct dose and only when the machine recognises the chlorophyll in the leaves of weeds.
"We have reduced the use of glyphosate by up to 80% in certain situations," Abel confirms. But he is concerned that not all local authorities are taking their responsibilities seriously, with decisions being driven by procurement officers who may take the cheapest option.
"Contractors that are in the amenity industry should all be in the Amenity Assured scheme and not working unregulated to low standards," says Abel. "There should be more policing of what is going on within our industry and we must endeavour to hold onto pesticides we currently use by being safe and careful during all applications."
- See more from Horticulture Week on glyphosate
Precise and targeted
Amenity Forum independent chairman Professor John Moverley agrees. "The technology now allows precise and targeted spraying of weeds. I urge those responsible for placing contracts for weed control to seek out professional contractors who demonstrate that they operate to Amenity Assured standards and are supporters of the Amenity Forum and its objective."
The Amenity Forum is the voluntary initiative for the amenity sector promoting best practice in all aspects of weed, pest and disease control. Its members are committed to driving up standards and ensuring safe and sustainable practices.
Abel supports the work of the Amenity Forum. "The forum is lobbying Government ministers continuously on the sector's behalf," he explains. "As a body, it is spelling out the problems that are happening in the field, highlighting the continual erosion of our arsenal of substances that we all require.
"It is explaining how professional we are in the amenity sector, highlighting the necessity for the NSTS for sprayers, the importance of the Amenity Assured scheme and, in general, showing our industry in the best light while demonstrating that we are all dedicated to best practice and continual professional development."
So, what happens next?
The EU approval process starts again when the scheduled safety assessment from the ECHA is issued this month. The process will be completed by 31 December 2017. In the meantime, use up stocks of products containing ETA - they must be finished by 30 June 2018 - and as soon as possible switch to non-ETA products such as Monsanto's Roundup range.
Importantly, all users of glyphosate, indeed of all agri-chemicals, must demonstrate best practice - following the product label and complying with the Sustainable Use Directive. That means spot treatment, restricting the spray to the target plant. Also, do not let weeds get too big. Targeted applications to smaller plants may lower overall volumes of active ingredient use.
Launched by ICL, Esteron-T is a new low-volume, dual-action selective herbicide to control broad-leaved weeds in managed amenity turf and domestic lawns. It contains florasulam and 2,4-D and can be used from March to October to combat a broad range of weeds including dandelion, daisy and white clover.
Continuing to develop its presence in the landscape/industrial sector, ICL now supplies Bayer's Finale 150 foliar contact herbicide (150g/l glufosinate-ammonium). It is approved for use on natural surfaces not intended to bear vegetation, permeable surfaces overlying soils, hard surfaces, along fence lines and in the management of amenity turf for line-marking preparation.
Update on non-chemical control options
Etesia UK has taken on the distribution of the Oeliatec environmentally friendly weed-control range in the UK and Ireland. Oeliatec Co has developed machines that use thermal methods - 100% hot water delivered at pressure at temperatures of up to 120 degsC. This destroys the cellular structure of the weed, killing off the plant. The intense heat penetrates deep into the root system, killing the plant from the leaf down to the root. Effective for broadleaf plants and grasses, mosses and algae, the equipment can also be used to remove graffiti and chewing gum.
Etesia has also added a new weeding brush attachment to its accessories for use on the Hydro 124 ride-on mower. Capable of removing moss and weeds from driveways, car parks, roadways and paths, the 10-brush MBR 124 is suited to use on block paving and Tarmac. The 500mm-diameter brushes give a working width of 150mm and, being adjustable for height and angle, facilitate a wide variety of tasks and surfaces. As an attachment to Etesia's Hydro 124DN and Hydro 124DX machines, the wire brush can be quickly fitted to and detached from the front.
New knapsack sprayer
The Cooper Pegler CP15 Evolution Comfort knapsack sprayer is ideal for spot treatment. It shares the same tried and tested diaphragm and pressure control system as the CP Classic units for smooth operation.
A new safety harness sets this new sprayer apart. Extra-wide shoulder and waist straps ensure that weight is carried ergonomically on the user's hips and shoulders.
Cooper Pegler is a brand of Excel Industries. Its handheld and knapsack sprayers are supplied by Hozelock Excel through independent dealers.