Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Sunday 20 January 2019

Crop producers are trapped in the crossfire between regulators and consumers' demands

PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

The loss of IPU - our main control for annual meadowgrass - the potential loss of chlorothalonil and the fact that we will no longer have Retigo Deter seed dressing for BYDV prevention, highlight the continuing pressures on arable crop production and on research for new pesticides.

No one wants to risk human, animal or environmental health but placing the entire onus on agrochemical companies for scientific proofs and additional proofs with every new accusation is making Europe an unattractive place for manufacturers and farmers.

Each time a product is withdrawn we wait for a replacement from increasingly frustrated agrochemical companies.

New products come with fancy prices. Our customers, be it for potatoes, vegetables or cereals demand product to very high specifications, most of which cannot be produced without an intensive pesticide programme.

Better still if they cannot get produce to their specification they have no hesitation importing it from any part of the world.

Yesterday I picked up a packet of Linseed in an Irish supermarket with a 'Produced in Ireland' label with a tricolour flag - similar to a Bord Bia Logo. For a product to carry 'Produced in Ireland' packaging or indeed repackaging in Ireland is adequate.

There was no indication of what country it came from so no possible way of finding out the standards to which it was produced.

Irish farmers who grow potatoes and vegetables are required to keep a vast amount of records and manage production and packaging to a very high standard in order to put a Bord Bia Logo on their produce.

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It is high time for our legislators to protect the consumer from deceptive labelling and if they are not prepared to do so, then for the EU to act.

Irish tillage farmers are being forced to meet EU standards, accept an ever increasing reduction in approved pesticides while product produced to unknown standards is being imported.

If our food retailers and indeed our consumers do not care about standards, apart possibly from visible appearance, there should be no restrictions on pesticide usage.

Use of an unapproved product in producing crops within the EU triggers a reduction in Basic payments. When direct payments to farmers were introduced in 1992 they were warmly welcomed as they came without too many strings attached.

It was viewed as a supplementary payment for produce which we were producing and earning a viable margin, most years.

We have now reached a stage where production, due to inadequate product prices, is no longer viable without the EU payment.

To remain viable we must meet whatever standards the EU decides to impose - there is no easy money.

Consequentially the risk of being in breach of the rules is a serious worry for all farmers and every effort is made to comply.

The role of the Department of Agriculture has been largely moved from that of promoting farming through schemes and on farm advice to that of a paymaster, who is protecting Ireland from EU penalties.

The fact that the Basic Payment Scheme introduced modulation - decreasing payments to farmers who had payment higher than the national average and increasing those to farmers with less than the national average - has had a severe impact on many intensive farms.

Any further reduction in payments under the proposed new direct scheme must be avoided for it to remain attractive and to ensure farmer compliance with the numerous statutory instruments.

We are now approaching a stage when compliance costs (including loss of pesticides) are nearly as high as scheme payments.

While loss of pesticides is a reality it is up to research, the industry and farming to protect and improve yield and income.

The term "Integrated Pest Management" (IPM) was introduced to us several years ago.

An IPM statement is now required annually, with the pesticide records, to show what actions a farmer is taking under IPM.

Leadership

It was only when farmers sat down to complete that list that many realised the full range of cultural controls that they are implementing - all of which are reducing reliance on pesticide usage.

In the meantime, research and the industry have stood back and let the farmers get on with it. But circumstances are changing. There is no real leadership to show what needs to be done to counter reduced pesticide availability.

Soil management, crop rotations, the management of major and minor elements and the full range of IPM measures have a critical role to play. With the exception of coated urea we have seen little or no innovation in soil fertility management.

Data from the Department of Agriculture on the performance of varieties in the absence of fungicide usage is becoming more and more relevant.

We now need real independent research to develop new and enhance current IPM techniques.

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

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