Delays on implementing pesticide rules are throwing up cause for frustration and optimism across horticulture sectors at the start of what they said should have been a crunch year for chemicals.
Leaders from amenity, landscape, ornamentals, fruit and vegetables said 2012 was meant to be the watershed year for expiry of approvals for some of the best-known and most effective chemicals.
The EU approval of 31 chemicals, including glyphosate, 2,4-D and Diquat, was to expire this year. But due to "a backlog of work", the chemicals could now be used until the end of June 2018, said the Chemicals Regulation Directorate.
"Because of the number of active substances due to expire and the work involved in seeking renewal, an extension was agreed to enable applicants to prepare their applications and the commission to evaluate them," said a spokeswoman.
Stockbridge Technology Centre science director Dr Martin McPherson said: "The industry is almost shell-shocked with what's happened already with pesticides and I'm not sure they are fully aware of the current position.
"So in some ways these hold-ups could potentially help because it delays the loss of chemicals and gives people time to become more familiar. However, I doubt that it will help manufacturers - it can take 10 years and $200m to develop a new chemical."
Crop Protection Association (CPA) chief executive Dominic Dyer was more upbeat on the delays. "They make me more optimistic and suggest public opinion is perhaps more in tune with the need for growing and technology," he said.
"The regulatory environment is still difficult but these delays suggest a new realisation coming into the thought process. The threats of three years ago have not disappeared but we are in a better position than many of us had hoped."
But uncertainty went beyond delays in approval expiry dates and into areas such as key definitions and implementation of directives affecting the use of pesticides, according to BALI technical director Neil Huck.
"Uncertainty in a number of areas is getting everyone wound up," he said. "They haven't yet defined 'endocrine disruptors' and we have no idea how the Sustainable Use Directive will affect us even though it's been EU law since November 2009. We need guidance on where we are going and how it affects the industry," he added.
"The one upside to these delays is it gives manufacturers time to develop new products. There are a lot of chemicals on the starting blocks for approval that are supposed to be safer. I agree with improving operator training and certification."
Mark Phillips, managing director at herbicide supplier Nomix Enviro and a CPA board member, agreed. The industry welcomed the EU Sustainable Use Directive and the Water Framework Directive but needed to see the small print, he said.
"It is imperative that best practice is adopted to maintain the safe use of pesticides in the amenity market and ensure the long-term future for the industry. We recognise the need to implement best practice."
Amenity Forum chairman Professor John Moverley said the change in Government and the economic crisis in Europe were probably causing further delays. The coalition was against "gold-plated regulation" while European leaders were preoccupied with savings.
"The frustration is we still don't have clear announcements and it's not just what we can use but operator certification that's a blur. But you can see positives. The delays give us more time to use what chemicals we have, develop new ones and firm-up knowledge on integrated pest management."
Expiry date extended
The 31 chemicals now approved for use until 2018.
Problems with one of the chemicals most crucial to the sector, glyphosate, almost came to a head last autumn when a cabal of green MEPs tabled a motion for an outright ban of the substance.
This was rejected by the European Parliament, which declined to comment.
However, BALI technical director Neil Huck said: "At the moment, glyphosate is fairly secure because it's a lot safer than most chemicals. I don't think that there is a big panic about a potential ban."
EU approval of 31 chemicals, which was due to expire this year, has been
extended to December 2015 and their use has been approved until the end
of June 2018.
- Ferric phosphate
- Paecylomyces fumosoroseus
- Cyhalofop butyl
- Metsulfuron methyl