'EU Commission plan on fungicides will devastate our grain crop profits'

'We cannot grow viable crops without robust fungicide programmes'
'We cannot grow viable crops without robust fungicide programmes'
PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

This year has clearly demonstrated the importance of native grain for both dairy and livestock enterprises.

The strong demand and the lift in prices for this year and prospects for good prices in 2019 have given tillage farmers a much-needed confidence boost.

The success of tillage in Ireland, despite our normal high rainfall and variable weather, is due to farmers' persistent adoption of new technologies, mechanisation and high-input pesticide programmes.

We cannot grow viable crops without robust fungicide programmes.

Those programmes have remained effective and produce the highest yields despite the fact that our climate is probably the least favourable of all grain-growing regions in the world.

The lynch-pin of our programmes has been chlorothalonil, a chemical that we have been using for more than 30 years and which is still effective.

In addition to its own fungicidal effects, it has been the core of our anti-resistance strategy in this country to protect other fungicides.

Without chlorothalonil our septoria control programmes in wheat would have been substantially less effective and substantially more expensive.

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I have no doubt that the area of wheat would have been substantially reduced.

It is also very important in barley production, where control of ramularia is highly dependent on chlorothalonil.

The EU Commission has proposed that the approval for chlorothalonil should not be renewed.

That proposal will be voted on, by the member states, in either October or December. If approval is not renewed, usage will have to be ceased within 18 months.

That would give farmers two further seasons on chlorothalonil use. By then it is expected that new chemistry will be available.

However, new chemistry is expensive and that chemistry will also need anti-resistance protection - which, given history, would best be provided by chlorothalonil.

In order for the proposal to be rejected, at least two of the larger countries - France, Germany, Italy and the UK - must vote against the proposal. Of the four, the UK is the only country that needs chlorothalonil.

It is very important for the future of Irish tillage that other member states take into consideration our unique position within Europe and the extra challenges that we face in crop disease control.

A Teagasc report published last week estimates that loss of chlorothalonil would reduce profit from wheat production by 50pc and from barley by 65pc.

Cereal production would only be viable on the best of land and in low rainfall areas.

That would leave growers producing the national average yield with no net income, exclude much of the country from production apart from the east coast, and leave all rented land making a loss.

For a strong case to be made in Europe in favour of renewal of approval, it is important that our politicians understand the importance of pesticide usage for the viability of tillage farms, the availability of Irish concentrates and straw for dairy and livestock farms, the viability of our grain merchants, and the availability of raw materials for our brewing and distilling industries, with the people they all employ.

Mushroom industry

Our mushroom industry, which is struggling for survival, may well be pushed out of existence due to lack of wheaten straw.

Pig and poultry farms are heavily reliant of tillage lands for the management of their organic manures.

Cereal production is a specialist business. The only people who fully understand the importance of pesticide usage are agronomists and farmers who have experienced poor yields and quality due to inadequate pesticide protection programmes.

In order to ensure that the interests of the Irish tillage industries are appropriately represented in Europe, it is important that our politicians are made fully aware of the implications of non-renewal of chlorothalonil - it is now up to the industries and farmers to ensure that their politicians are fully informed.

Make contact with yours this week and voice your concerns.

May sure that they know that we need chlorothalonil more than any other country in Europe and that without it, the viability of cereal production in Ireland will be seriously undermined.

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

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