Farm Ireland

Monday 26 February 2018

'Tillage farmers' future compromised by EU double standards on imports'

PJ Phelan

PJ Phelan

Over the past few months, I have highlighted the difficulties European farmers face when competing with produce produced in other countries where there is less regulation and where yields are increasing dramatically.

As their yields increase, the costs per tonne decrease for producers in these countries. That enables them to make a profit even with declining or static world prices.

Meanwhile, our costs are increasing so that - barring a disaster in a major grain- producing area - our tillage margins are decreasing.

Agrochemical companies are continuing to bring new products for approval and to the market.

However, we are losing more approvals than we are gaining. All pesticides must be approved by the EU Commission before being made available for sale.

The task of approval for each product is allocated to an individual member state, which is then described as the "rapporteur" for that particular active ingredient.

Approval lasts for specific periods, normally 10 years. Renewal of approval for glyphosate (for which the rapporteur was Germany) took place last June when it was granted until December 2017 .

The loss of glyphosate would be a major blow to crop production and result in a significant increase in costs.

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For the tillage farmer, it would obviously reduce the ability to control grass weeds and other weeds resistant to other herbicides, make min-till/ no-plough a non-runner, with the knock-on effect of increasing carbon emissions.

It would also reduce our ability to salvage crops in poor weather conditions.

Grassland farmers would have huge difficulties in establishing and maintaining new reseeds and would have to plough in order to establish suitable seedbeds.

They would still end up with a lot of the old grass weeds surviving.

There is substantial scientific evidence to show that glyphosate does not present an unacceptable risk to human health, wildlife or the general environment.

Further studies are now being completed to meet the December 2017 review deadline.

It is important that a decision on pesticide approval be based on scientific fact rather than lobby groups' demands that pesticides be banned.

It is important that our MEPs and politicians be fully aware of the critical role that pesticides play in the viability of food production.

Now is the time for you to make your opinion known, by writing to them outlining why you use glyphosate and the consequences if it is banned. Scientific fact may not be enough.

Banning pesticide products is in any case a futile exercise as long as the EU allows imports of produce which have been treated with unapproved products.

We and our animals still end up consuming the product. When a product is no longer allowed to be marketed, it decreases competition for alternative products, allowing price increases.

Perhaps, more importantly, as we decrease the number of approved pesticides, we increase the risk of resistance developing in the remaining products.

In the interests of transparency, it is time that the food labels of all imported food products state if the produce has been grown with the use of pesticide products/technologies which are approved in Europe.

Labels on meat should also confirm that the animal was only fed with products approved for use within Europe. This would be a real test of the value the consumer puts on EU standards, as it would enable differential pricing.

Our trade deals generally allow the importation of produce that meet the standards of the exporting countries.

The trade deal (CETA) agreed on February 15 with Canada removes tariffs on most agricultural products with the exception of dairy, poultry and eggs.

It brings a welcome development, in that all imports from Canada have to satisfy EU rules and regulations. For example, only hormone-free meat will ever be imported into the EU.

If glyphosate is to be banned in Europe, we should apply the same standards to all imports.

This would have a major impact on the importation of animal feedstuffs and create a serious deficiency in protein for animal feed.

Most of the soya and corn we import is treated with glyphosate.

It is unlikely that the exporting countries have the ability to grow the crops without glyphosate.

If they had to capacity to do so, the next insurmountable task would be to segregate glyphosate-free from glyphosate-treated crops.

EU standards should be the minimum standard for all imports.

Failure to insist on that puts our farm viability and possibly our health at risk.

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

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