Market Report - Weed control

New pesticide regulations and bad weather are key challenges for the latest products, Sally Drury finds

Ellis UTV mounted - image: Ellis Equipment
Ellis UTV mounted - image: Ellis Equipment

Anyone involved in weed control will know that it has been a dire year for keeping unwanted vegetation at bay. Heavy rainfall has seen weeds grow at phenomenal rates and regrowth has been quick and problematic.

The weather, both in spring and summer, made it difficult to find a useful and safe window for spraying, and where herbicides were applied the application was often wasted by sudden, unexpected and prolonged rainfall. Up and down the country, councils are now faced with large bills to repair cracked pavements and replace lifted paving slabs. The situation could hardly be worse. Or could it? What about the new pesticide regulations published in July?

Product stewardship

This new legislation implementing the EU Sustainable Use Directive came into UK law from 18 July and brings into focus the stewardship of products. "This is the most important piece of legislation regarding pesticides that we have seen," says Mark Philips, managing director at product supplier Nomix Enviro.

"It will help ensure the sustainable use of pesticides while protecting human health and the environment, particularly with regard to water quality and pollution. This legislation is necessary to protect the sustainability of pesticide products, particularly in the amenity sector."

The main aim of the legislation is to minimise any risk or impacts to human health and the environment. Key points include national action plans, training and certification requirements, provisions to protect water and public spaces, a continued requirement to restrict application to the target and new obligations for regular sprayer inspection.

Overall, Britrisk Safety technical director Jon Allbutt is less impressed than Philips: "It’s a muddle — an example of how to mess up something that was good. The old regulations were easy to understand. Not so now. Advisers are anxious."

Speaking at this month’s Institute of Groundsmanship Saltex exhibition at Windsor Racecourse, Allbutt warned: "Amenity horticulture is a target and will be watched to make sure that it is following best practice."

Enshrined with the EU regulations is the need for a national action plan. "Ours was voluntary," Allbutt continues. "Now it’s a requirement — and it’s disappointing." He suggests that people follow the national action plan link on the Defra website.

One thing is clear as far as certificates of competence are concerned. Anyone who has been "getting away with grandfather rights" will no longer be able to do so. By November 2013, everyone will be required to hold a certificate of competence, but there is still no requirement for updating it. When it comes to sprayer "MOTs", the vast majority of amenity falls outside the need for annual checks — the industry largely using handheld sprayers or units with booms less than 3m in length.

The national action plan will set out statutory and non-statutory actions to bring an integrated approach to pest management. There is a requirement to have a written integrated pest policy.

In golf, integrated approaches are already in common use, but less so elsewhere. But integrated management is not necessarily a cheap option. The Government will review, year on year, the reduction in pesticide use.

Winter tactics

So what should you buy this winter? Deep mulch may be seen as a solution on beds and borders, but it is often kicked out and ends up on lawns and pavements. In parts of France, geotextiles are used without mulch material on top, but it is not likely to be viewed as sufficiently attractive in UK parks and gardens.

For many weed-control businesses, the largest proportion of work will be on pavements, and here technique, equipment and herbicide selection are key. In the past, quad bikes and other self-propelled vehicles have not always been used responsibly and it is now clear that such vehicles must not be driven one-handed while the operative uses a spray lance from the other.

Complete Weed Control’s Weed IT technology, where chlorophyll is recognised by an electronic eye, means that only the weeds are sprayed. Not only does this method save money on chemical product, but it is also environmentally much better.

In instances where a non-herbicidal approach is required, local authorities have in the past used wire weeding brushes — though in some cases regrowth and damage to pavements have been issues. Burning and steaming have also been tired, but now a new company is offering a different approach using heat.

Initially involved in the agricultural industry, Weedingtech recognises that controlling weeds is a perennial problem for council, amenity, landscape and grounds care teams. Not only is it costly and time-consuming, but the use of chemical-based herbicides is not without risks. At IoG Saltex, Weedingtech delivered a new solution that is effective, financially viable and provides non-toxic, 100 per cent natural and renewable weed control. Powered by Foamstream, the solution won the exhibition’s innovation award.

Being non-toxic, Foamstream thermal weeding is unrestricted. It can be used around watercourses, on roads and in populated areas, and it poses no danger to people, animals or the environment. It kills weeds quickly, using hot water, steam and a natural foam made from 100 per cent natural and renewable plant oils and sugars. The mixture is applied by up to three handheld lances from Weedingtech’s delivery device, the AW-Series, which is fitted to a tractor and powered by its PTO.

The system is simple but effective and is designed to treat all weed types. Steam transfers heat to plant cells and the foam acts as a thermal blanket to prevent heat loss to the atmosphere, allowing sufficient time for the heat to do its job. Cells in the weed are heated to the point where they rupture and the plant dies — science validated by University of Cambridge department of plant sciences senior lecturer Dr David Hanke. Foamstream is approved by the Soil Association, Organic Farmers & Growers Association and Chemical Regulations Directorate.

Weedingtech agent Richard Pearson says: "Foamstream will be a highly effective tool in the amenities sector because it offers so many benefits. For starters, it’s incredibly cost-efficient — it can be used in almost any weather conditions with no risk to people, animals or the environment. This means that contractors can reduce contingency time on jobs, saving them money and improving their margins.

"It also empowers contractors to offer their clients additional services so they have a wider portfolio when they enter to into tender situations. What’s more, only minimal training is needed to use the AW-Series and Foamstream — as opposed to chemical-based herbicides that require training certification."

Spotting the benefits and opportunities presented by Weedingtech’s approach to weed control, Countrymans Contractors has been one of the first to take up the new technology and invest in an AW-Series.

Operations manager Karen Waters says: "We recognised that Foamstream fills a gap in the market, giving us the ability to offer our clients a wider range of services and generate new opportunities for our business. It allows us to bypass complex restrictions around herbicide use and meet the clients’ and general public’s agenda for greener, more sustainable public services.

"Countrymans is committed to protecting the environment and making our towns, cities and -countryside greener, cleaner and safer than ever. We’re really excited about rolling Foamstream out and would be delighted to speak with any other councils or organisations about how Foamstream can help them."

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