Farm Ireland

Thursday 23 November 2017

Tillage: Odds are stacked against European farmers

Every standard that we must meet is putting additional costs on farmers.
Every standard that we must meet is putting additional costs on farmers.
PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

Europe wants quality food, cheap food and environmental protection - and all at the same time.

Compliance with regulations and introduction of new legislation is now so commonplace that few questions are asked when yet another product is banned. Chlorpyrifos, which most knew as Dursban, had a final use by date of March 31, 2016. Last year tillage farmers were advised that if prethroids failed to control aphids in spring crops to follow up with either chlopyrifos or pirimicarb. So while we still have pirimicarb we are ok? I'm afraid not. Next year pirimicarb is likely to be banned.

The result will be that according as resistance to pyrethroids increases we will have no chemical control to kill aphids that transmit Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus. Yields of late sown spring crops (mid April onwards) are likely to suffer a yield penalty of 2t/ha. That in itself should not be a problem for farmers as decreased supply should result in increased price. However the price of grain, nor of any agricultural product, is not determined by European supply.

Price is determined by world supply and the world, outside of Europe, does not have a ban on chlopyriphos nor does it have a ban on many other products that we are not allowed to use - hormones to boost beef and milk production, GM varieties .

Given that the rest of the world does not appear to be concerned about products that Europe has banned it is unrealistic to expect that we would get a premium price for our products except for niche markets.

Our regulators, though, see fit - on environmental grounds and or risk to humans - to ban European farmers from using them. It would be logical then to expect that there would be a ban on the importation of raw materials or finished foods that have been produced using those substances. That is not the case.

We have a strange situation where a tillage/beef farmer is not allowed to use GM varieties of maize when sowing a crop yet is buying a ration that contains GM maize.

The farmer who grew that GM maize had a higher yield potential at lower cost/t than the European farmer yet the European farmer can use the product for animal production and put that animal into the European food chain.

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Has the European consumer won by getting an animal that has been produced at lower cost?

Is it acceptable that Europe has taken a position on environment risk for some products and yet supports farmers in other parts of the world by buying that product from them.

One of the first products to be highlighted as an environment risk was DDT - in 1962 with the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. DDT is now banned virtually everywhere as are many other chemicals.

Chemicals are banned for several reasons - toxicity, carcinogenic risk (cancer causing), persistency (chemical very slow to degrade) or suspicion that it may be causing damage to something other than the target.

All of the approved chemicals used in European agriculture have limitations as to usage.


These include individual crop permissions/restrictions, maximum rates, periods of permitted usage, conditions under which application is permitted, buffer zones in which application is permitted, condition of application equipment and usage restricted to persons who have undertaken a training course in pesticide application.

The same level of controls are not in place for imported products. How much product are we importing in foodstuffs that does not meet our standards?

Within Europe we have a very comprehensive residue testing in food products combined with records keeping by farmers of all products used and traceability of both animals and crops.

Controls are rigidly enforced on farm. Can the same be said for imported product? If Britain exits the EU will we have different environmental standards for crops produced in the Northern Ireland?

The issue of immediate concern is that the food we import in Europe should meet the same standards as Europe demands of it's farmers.

Every standard that we must meet is putting additional costs on farmers and in many cases reduces their yield potential.

We cannot be competitive on the open market while we have restrictions that other farmers do not have.

Our tillage farmers would be in a far better position to compete if GM varieties and the full range of pesticides approved in other countries is allowed to them.

If that is not going to happen we urgently need controls which will prevent access to product which does not meet the standards which we are achieving.

PJ Phelan is a tillage advisor based in Tipperary and is a member of the ACA and ITCA

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