Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Regulations fly in the face of best farm practice

TILLAGE

Pat Minnock

Pat Minnock

Rules, regulations and particularly cross compliance are the bane of most farmer's lives and tend to drive otherwise very reasonable individuals into a highly agitated, frustrated and angry state -- sometimes with good reason.

While most of these regulations are in place for very good reasons, particularly environmental, there is no doubt that their interpretation and implementation by the agents of the state can be unacceptable in some cases.

Another regulation comes into play today, November 26. This is the requirement for pesticide advisors, distributors, professional users and inspectors of pesticide application equipment to register with the Department of Agriculture under the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD).

This requirement has been well flagged for a number of years, yet the opportunity to register with the Department only appeared a week in advance of this date.

Many advisors may have missed this. While pesticide advisors can continue to register, the requirements for those registering after today is different. Distributors and farmer users will be required to register in 2015.

This requirement is welcomed by advisors as it provides for more accountability, transparency and higher standards, but the inconsistency of the Department regarding this issue is worrying and needs to be addressed.

The Department's Farm Advisory Service (FAS) has been in place for a number of years and has operated reasonably efficiently. The same cannot be said for this new Directive. FAS advisors must be highly qualified and possess a minimum of a Level 8 degree.

DAMAGE

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The potential damage to the environment is significantly greater with the use of pesticides than might be expected from many other cross compliance issues and consequently you would expect at least the same high level qualification would be required. However, this is not the case.

Lower levels of qualification to implement and advise in relation to this directive are acceptable to the Department. This is not a reflection on unqualified individuals. However, considering the potential for environmental damage versus other areas where Level 8 qualifications are required, there is serious concern.

However, of greater concern than the qualification of advisors, are the anomalies that are inherent in this directive when judged under the cross-compliance rules. Under the SUD the big buzzwords will be 'best practice' and 'integrated pest management' (IPM). As professional advisors we strive for this and have done so over the years. But the IPM and best practice of the SUD is seriously compromised by many of the current regulations being implemented by the Department.

The autumn of 2013 has seen probably the best establishment of winter crops in my lifetime, which is not surprising considering conditions at sowing time. The fine weather, high levels of residual soil nitrogen and excellent germination were all factors. The potential for high yields for the harvest of 2014 are substantial. However, high yields, income and the environment are now being compromised because the same weather responsible for good crop establishment has ensured a lot of volunteers and green cover in all stubble fields this autumn.

While this will virtually eliminate any potential penalty under cross compliance for lack of green cover, it has generated different problems. Best practice and IPM would dictate that these problems could be addressed by management of these stubbles.

This should have permitted the desiccation of these volunteers. But under cross-compliance rules this was not allowed so highly infected stubbles can be seen side by side with newly established winter crops. This has already led to very high incidences of disease in winter sown crops, especially barley and rape and will probably lead to significant problems with Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) in crops.

Simple desiccation of these stubbles would have greatly minimised the disease and BYDV threat; however, it would have given rise to cross compliance penalties as a result of the absence of green cover.

The application of fungicides to these stubbles is not practical or economically viable.

Similarly, a simple and cost effective solution, an application of an aphicide to stubbles is also prohibited. Numerous aphicide applications (of different products) to the growing crop could be more environmentally damaging and may not even be sufficient.

SOLUTIONS

Every year is different and often different solutions are called for. If we, as qualified professionals, deem certain solutions better and, especially considering our obligations under IPM, surely we should be facilitated in making these decisions without farmer clients worrying about the potential for cross compliance penalties.

Winter barley sowings are well up, perhaps driven by greater usage of home saved seed.

While winter oat sowings also appear to be roughly equal to 2012. The poor price on offer for next harvest (€150 dried) is not helping.

Most winter crops have received a number of aphicide applications and their herbicide treatment which has primarily consisted of mixtures of DFF and IPU. The loss of the product Bacara for grass weed control in oats from 2014 is a major blow to oat production in this country.

While the removal of this product from sale was mainly a commercial decision, the influence of rules and regulations cannot be discounted. I note that Bacara will be available in Britain in 2014, but without oats listed as a crop on its label. Similarly only some DFF products can now be used on oats so be very careful with purchases and records.

The Minister for Agriculture and the farming industry continue to talk up the prospects of achieving food harvest 2020 targets, but the more rules and regulations that are foisted on us the more I despair. In my opinion, a strict adherence to all these regulations at the expense of best practice and IPM is likely to be more harmful to the environment, the farmer and ultimately the consumer.

Pat Minnock is a Carlow-based agricultural consultant and a member of the ACA and the ITCA. www.minnockagri.ie

Irish Independent