Over the past few years the EU has been producing what it describes as a "thematic strategy for pesticides". It was this strategy that was responsible for the passing by the EU last year of tough new pesticide regulations that will see the loss of much of the grower's armoury of pest control options.
The latest part of this strategy is the Sustainable Use Directive, which has to be implemented by EU member states. In February, as part of this initiative, Defra released a 216-page consultation document outlining how the directive can be met in this country. Interested parties - growers, industry groups, etc - have until 4 May to give their views.
The new rules will affect all pesticide users including foresters, the amenity sector and livestock farmers. Defra's report looks at the various aspects of the directive. In each instance the department has tried to show what options are available and how they would affect the industry.
Under the EU directive, every country has to draw up a national action plan with targets for risk reduction. The UK does have a National Pesticide Strategy (NPS), but this would not meet all the directive requirements.
Defra suggests three possible options. The existing NPS could be used while more hazardous substances could be monitored by the existing Pesticide Usage Survey. Alternatively, there could be a voluntary reduction of 10 per cent in hazardous substances or there could be a compulsory reduction.
The EU directive will force all pesticide users to undergo some kind of training. At present, those who spray on their own property and were born before 1965 do not require training. However, these "grandfather rights" will almost certainly be phased out by 2015.
Defra suggests that these older pesticide users should either be forced to take the standard PA1 and PA2 pesticide testing or some kind of short course. In addition, there could be some kind of regular retraining every three years.
The EU will also insist that all equipment used in spraying is regularly tested. Until 2020 testing will have to be done every five years and thereafter at least every three years. Currently there is only a voluntary National Sprayer Testing initiative in force.
Defra says there are two ways in which testing could be implemented. All equipment, including knapsack sprayers, could be tested every year compulsorily. Alternately, knapsack sprayers could be exempted.
For all other sprayers, there could be compulsory testing every five years, while voluntary testing would be promoted. The first measure would cost growers £24.3m per year. The second would cost only £1.7m. Aerial spraying is also included in the EU directive, but because this is seldom used in Britain, the measures are unlikely to affect growers in this country.
More importantly, there are rigid requirements on information provision. At present there are only voluntary codes in operation, under which growers are supposed to warn neighbours prior to any spraying. Defra suggests that this might be altered, so that there could be a stronger voluntary agreement or even a legal requirement to notify anyone who makes a formal request.
Similarly, the new directive insists that there should be reasonable access to records so that interested parties can find out which chemicals are being used. At present this is done voluntarily. However, Defra says it might be possible to keep some kind of Government database.
The EU directive is also concerned about protecting water from pesticides. It insists that growers should try to use products that are not dangerous to the aquatic environment. It also advocates the use of buffers and safeguard zones.
Defra suggests two options. Pesticides that do not comply with existing water regulations could be banned or restricted. Alternatively, there would be a catchment-based approvals regime and there should be mitigation techniques such as filter-systems to reduce the amount of pesticide leaching into the water system.
The standards on handling and storage of pesticides will also be tightened up. At present there is only a voluntary code of practice, but there are no enforceable legislative standards.
Defra says it might be possible to keep the status quo or promote the membership of an appropriate body such as the National Register of Sprayer Operators. If this is not enough, Defra advises that a large programme of building bio-beds and creating new laws on storage might be needed. It warms that this option might cost anything up to £142m.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is being heavily promoted by the EU, which wants it to be widely implemented by 2014. There is no existing legislation, but a commitment to IPM is a requirement of most assurance schemes. Defra suggests that it might be possible to keep the present arrangements.
Alternatively, there could be some kind of enhanced voluntary approach, with growers having to do some kind of training. The most stringent option is that growers would have to produce plans for use, deployment and training in all aspects of IPM. Defra warns that this would cost the industry around £10m.
The industry is currently in the process of responding to the Defra report. Industry representatives argue that standards in Britain are generally high and that the Government should make as few changes as possible.
NFU plant health adviser Paul Chambers says: "There are plenty of existing standards. We don't want to go completely overboard and put a huge burden on the industry. However, it is important to meet EU requirements." He warns against "gold-plating" - producing standards that involve spending a huge amount of money and are too elaborate for practical use.
He believes that most of the Defra measures, if sensibly implemented, would not cause enormous problems to the industry. The most serious problem is that many occasional sprayers would be badly affected by the requirement to test equipment every five years - the option that the NFU accepts will probably be needed.
The NFU generally favours voluntary agreements. It suggests that rather than draw up new action plans for pesticides, it should be possible to use the existing National Pesticide Strategy.
Where action is needed, the industry generally wants it to be as limited as possible. Although most in the sector accept that all people involved in spraying should have to undertake a training course, the industry wants the government to allow experienced sprayers to take a special shorter version of the existing PA1 and PA2 courses.
Similarly, it favours a light inspection regime on equipment (every five years) and a voluntary agreement on providing notification on spraying and information on what has been sprayed. In every other instance the NFU has asked for no extra regulations to be imposed on growers.
Chambers says: "We don't want a lot of record keeping and bureaucracy. We think there are better ways of spending Government money."
The Horticultural Development Company will also be giving its response to the proposals. "We will be producing guidance. We are concerned that it could result in added bureaucracy for growers and could have a significant impact," warns crop protection liaison officer Viv Powell.
- The consultation is available at www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/pesticides
The Legal Background
As with most current legislation, the new rules have been handed down by the EU. In this case, it comes from the document 2009/128/EC of the European Parliament and Council, which provides a framework for the sustainable use of pesticides.
The document is in the form of a directive, which individual states must implement in their own way. The response from Defra is contained in www.bit.ly/dxeBh6. This shows a series of options that the government can take.
Interested parties have until 4 May to comment on the proposals. The second stage of the consultation will outline Government recommendations and indicate the penalties growers may face if they break the laws. The rules will have to be implemented by November 2011, although some may take longer to put into effect.
The Sustainable Use Directive does not outlaw particular pesticides. Some pesticides will be banned in June 2011, but this is covered in separate regulations. Details of these banned products are available on the Chemicals Regulation Directorate website.
Despite the restrictions, new products are still coming onto the market. Certis has introduced Sluxx, a ferric phosphate formulation to control slugs. It has also won specific off label approval (SOLA) for fungicide Cercobin to be used on tomatoes, Dacthal 75 to be used as pre-emergence weed control on salad onions and Frupica SC to be used as fungicide on courgette crops.
Syngenta has introduced Actara, to control aphids in potatoes. This year it has been adapted for new in-furrow application. Defy, a herbicide developed for potatoes and vegetable crops, has been given a new SOLA for onions and carrots. Switch, introduced last year as a fungicide for legumes and vegetable crops, has new SOLA recommendations for up to 20 vegetables.
Last year Bayer introduced Rudis against mildew on vegetable crops. This year it has launched Movento against sucking pests on Brassicas and lettuce.