EU's 2020 vision for food will require big changes on fertiliser and pesticide usage

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PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

All pesticide and fertiliser records for 2019 should be finalised as soon as possible.

Pesticide records must include PCS numbers recorded from the product container. Beware of using pesticide numbers recorded on invoice dockets as an error made on an invoice will not save you from a penalty on your BPS.

When taking delivery of pesticides check that the item's delivery matches the invoice. Do a full inventory now of chemicals in store and check their use-by dates. Repeat that inventory every three to four months and keep the record where it can be easily retrieved.

Any pesticide with a use-by date that expires this year should be clearly identified and marked for use before it's expiry date.

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Changes in PCS numbers because of a change in label requirements/permissions may not result in a change in product name. It is important to be aware of the fact that you may have differing use-by dates for the same product name.

Take time to complete the Integrated Pest Management as, while it is a record of what you do to minimise pesticide usage, it is also a useful list of strategies to reduce pesticide usage.

EU farm-to-fork strategy

In spring of this year the European Commission will present a 'Farm-to-Fork Strategy' to provide:

Affordable and sustainable food;

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Tackle climate change;

Protect the environment;

Preserve biodiversity;

Increase organic farming. This will require a significant reduction in our dependency on pesticide and fertiliser usage.

All imported food products from non-EU countries will have to comply with the EU's environmental standards.

Implementation of the programme will require substantially better farming practices as we will not be allowed to rely on increased pesticide or fertiliser usage to rectify issues created by poor husbandry.

It is important that provision is made to allow for limiting factors that exist within different countries and regions.

Farmers who are operating in areas with significant constraints will have to be facilitated with usage permissions that may not apply in more favourable conditions.

Concerns about and improvements in food and the environment must not be focused totally on farming.

The visual appearance and nutritional content of farm food sales has changed very little in recent decades.

But food processing and packaging have left most products in retail outlets totally unrecognisable from the produce which left the farm.

The emphasis appears to be on increasing sales by improving visual appearance and taste rather than on nutrition.

Fertiliser efficiency

More efficient use of fertiliser can be achieved on many farms with increased use of soil analysis and close adherence to a well prepared nutrient management plan.

The Teagasc finding that up to 88pc of farmed land is deficient in either lime, phosphate or potash is shocking.

Rectifying those issues should allow similar or greater yields with lower levels of nitrogen. That will save farmers money while at the same time making food production more sustainable and protect the environment.

Every intensive farmer should be soil testing the entire farm every three to four years and correcting issues in individual fields. The first fertiliser application in spring and perhaps the last application in autumn might be used to correct the individual field issues. After that a single programme might be used on the entire block of land.

Self-calibrating sprayer and fertiliser spreaders and modern technologies (GPS, section control etc) have a lot to offer in improving both application uniformity and usage reductions.

However, manual calibration in the field is a valuable check tool which should not be ignored.

The current tranche of TAMS which provides for 40pc grants (60pc for Young Farmers) for eligible equipment closes next Friday (January 10).

Approvals will take perhaps two to three months, so if you miss the current deadline you are buying for next season.

Finally, fertiliser and pesticide sprays are sensitive to water hardness. Their efficiency can be improved by sourcing soft water, perhaps rainwater harvesting, or by the use of additives to neutralise the water.

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

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