Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Curbs on chemicals threaten crops

Volintary measures have delayed nasty decisions around international agrichemical regulations, but not eliminated them, a leading international advisor of crops and agronomy warns New Zealand farmers.

Jim Orson was guest speaker at the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR) annual crops expo in Mid Canterbury, the UK-based expert highlighting changes to agrichemical regulations and discussing the likely effects law change will have on NZ farmers.

Based at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) Cambridge, Orson cited the UK experience where already some pesticides had been banned, with more at risk of being taken off the market.

“The industry working together has saved some pesticide taxes in the past but I am afraid that we are coming to the end game. While we have learnt a lot, in some cases we have not met the target, particularly in terms of water quality,” Orson told farmers and industry representatives.

The main implications for the UK from the measures introduced over the past 20 years included a large reduction in available ingredients that had had greatest impact on minor crops, leaving very limited options for crop protection in some minor crops. “Any further reductions are being viewed with much trepidation.”

Pesticides in water are currently a huge issue for both the agricultural and water industries. The standards are demanding, particularly for drinking water. In areas where drinking water is not sourced, pesticides in water must meet the Environmental Quality Standards needed to protect aquatic life.

To reduce pesticides reaching water, good practice was essential including filling, emptying, cleaning and storing the sprayer, reducing spray drift and the adoption of buffer zones. In some instances it had also meant not using land prone to erosion for crop production.

The future of oilseed rape production, the UK’s second largest crop after cereal, was under threat as the essential herbicides to the crop came in above the limits of the EU directive, aimed at ensuring all pesticides meet modern standards for protecting human health and the environment.

The Water Framework Directive, primarily introduced to improve and integrate the way water bodies are managed, threatened the future of some key herbicides. The new Authorisation Regulations which introduced some hazard-based rather than risk-based assessments of pesticides also posed it challenges for the cropping fraternity.

Orson believed the international standards have been set too high for farmers, “bordering on unrealistic” which is creating debate right around the world.

“It’s inevitable that using pesticides and chemicals can be environmentally damaging but farmers around the world need to grow food and feed millions of mouths.”

It was about getting the right balance, but some laws were effectively restricting farmers from growing their crops and doing their job, Orson said.

He acknowledged NZ farming practices were becoming a lot more responsible and believed the industry in general was heading in the right direction.

There was no one answer to fix what is a “monstrous global issue”.

“All farmers can continue to do in the short term is carry out their duty of care, be proactive and show their pesticide practices are as responsible as possible,” Orson said.

Around 700 farmers and industry representatives from Southland, many parts of the North Island and Australia, braved the soaring temperatures and howling Canterbury nor’west winds to attend the annual crop expo.

Throughout the day presentations from national and international keynote speakers provided information and ideas to help solve problems and create new opportunities in arable cropping. Practical demonstrations were also included in the programme with some of the latest and greatest machinery put to the test.

“All in all it has been one huge success. Shame about the wind, but clearly it hasn’t put people off being here. We can only be happy with the overall result,” FAR chief executive Nick Pyke said.

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