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PJ Phelan: We will have to get smarter to cope with new pesticide rules

Implementation of the European Commission proposals will impact on all farmers who use pesticides


Challenges ahead: The use of chemical pesticides will be reduced. Photo: Roger Jones

Challenges ahead: The use of chemical pesticides will be reduced. Photo: Roger Jones

Challenges ahead: The use of chemical pesticides will be reduced. Photo: Roger Jones

Consumers view pesticides as something that damage food quality; farmers, by contrast, view them as insurance and essential for the crops that they grow.

Last month the European Commission published a proposal to strengthen of the rules governing the use of plant protection products.

Implementation of those proposals will impact on all farmers who use pesticides, and will further reduce the range of products available.

The demands on farmers have been refocused in recent years. Not only do we have to produce safe, sustainable, affordable food, we are also required to be “climate responsible”, safeguarding biodiversity.

The objectives for the proposed regulation are:

■ Reduce the use of chemical pesticides through improved used of integrated pest management (IPM) and the introduction of less hazardous, non-chemical controls;

■ Increased use of monitoring;

■ Increased enforcement;

■ Increased use of precision farming techniques.

Record-keeping for pesticide usage will be compulsory.

Farmers will have to get recorded advice from independent advisors, at least once a year.

Biological plant protection products will be promoted.

Attention will be given to training, to improve health and safety on farms.

Farmers are to be encouraged to move to low-input agricultural methods and to organic farming.

The reduction in use of chemical pesticides is expected to reduce health and safety risks for farmers.

An evaluation of the current Sustainable Use Directive found it to be only moderately effective.

The main weaknesses identified were implementation and enforcement of IPM and the effectiveness of individual member states’ National Action Plans (NAPs).

It is acknowledged that a 50pc reduction, in accordance with the Farm to Fork strategy, in pesticide usage by 2030 will result in a increase in production costs due to:

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■ Stricter and more detailed reporting requirements

■ Yield reduction due to lower pesticide usage

■ Additional costs for farmers who do not normally employ an advisor.

It is proposed that those costs will be met with additional CAP payments.

Member states will be required to produce NAPs containing timescales and indicators to reduce negative impacts from pesticide usage combined with annual reporting.

Farmers may only use chemicals after all other non-chemical methods have been exhausted.

Much of the requirements in the proposal are already being implemented in this country but it will lead to greater levels of record keeping and enforcement.

It will be used as the major implement to achieve the target of a 50pc reduction in pesticide usage.

Ireland is where most pesticide developers come to test new products clearly, which underlines how a reduction in pesticide usage will affect us more than most other European countries.

The emphasis on the use of biological agents to reduce reliance on chemicals sounds good, but we have little independent research on which to base such recommendations.

Increased use of precision application equipment will help but at a cost too high for the small to average operator.

The disease resistance of many of our varieties will have to be substantially improved before pesticide use is cut.

Enhanced crop nutrition also has a role to play; trace element soil results from the Department’s Pilot Soil Testing Programme which will give a substantial amount of new data.

Arable farming will advance without our current quantities of pesticides, but we will all have to get smarter at what we do.

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

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