Farming opinion: Farmers need access to targeted pesticides to grow food responsibly

The potential extension of seed treatment restrictions to cereal crops could have serious consequenc

The potential extension of seed treatment restrictions to cereal crops could have serious consequences, says Ross Dawson of Fram Farmers - Credit: Archant

For years farmers around the globe have been using safe, targeted chemical seed care products to combat and limit the effects of harmful pests on agricultural crops used to produce the world’s food.

Ross Dawson of Fram Farmers

Ross Dawson of Fram Farmers - Credit: Archant

These chemicals are applied in very small doses to the outer coating of the seed and are vital for the protection of that seed against diseases and pests found both in the soil and on the plant.

Left unchecked, these pests attack the germinating seed and the seedling as it emerges from the soil, reducing how much food a farmer can grow in a field. Farmers in East Anglia grow some of the highest quality food in the world but they do need effective tools to supply an ever-growing population with food that is responsibly farmed.

The ban brought into place, in 2013, on products used in oilseed rape crops has dramatically affected the landscape of agriculture with some farmers being forced to scrap growing the crop altogether due to the increased pressure of harmful pests.

In recent months, attention has turned to cereal crops, sugar beet and vegetables. Although these are not open flowering crops, and are not pollinated by bees, the same arguments used in 2013 are being used to try to get a similar ban on more of our vital seed care products. This is a bizarre proposal since bees do not visit cereals or sugar beet or vegetable crops.

Ross Dawson of Fram Farmers

Ross Dawson of Fram Farmers - Credit: Archant

The seed treatments used, particularly in cereals, are one of the vital tools utilised by farmers to target their crop protection options and defend against harmful disease spreading aphids as part of a robust Integrated Farm Management System. Their use also means that farmers do not have to use as many slug pellets as they would with untreated seed.

Disappointingly, without these seed care products, farmers will be left with older and less targeted ways of control for insect pests such as spraying insecticides, something that they have been avoiding up to now.

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With Brexit looming, it is clear that agriculture in the UK is in a state of change and, with reductions in farm payments from the European Union, the pressure will be on to make farming more efficient whilst continuing to look after the countryside.

It is therefore important that we do not lose anymore products and encourage the use of actual scientific data to make these kinds of decisions.

There are committees and procedures in place that regulate the approval of these chemical products thoroughly and this is being somewhat undermined by decisions made based on overly precautious and badly thought out theoretical concerns.

As with many other industries the environment is a huge consideration in the planning and management of the UK’s farmland.

Environmental and conservation adviser Suffolk FWAG is working very closely with farmer groups to come up with targeted, individual options for the various local ecosystems on farm, including working with vegetable growers near the Suffolk coast to make use of field margins (which would otherwise be left bare) by planting pollen and nectar specific seed mixes.

Host plants are also being used to support the development of the farmland bird populations, taking precautions to make sure that the UK’s diverse flora and fauna populations are supported and given the habitats and food sources to thrive.

Just last week it was reported that a Suffolk farmer was celebrated for the wide range of species and quantity of farmland birds being supported on his land.

In 2015 approximately 8m hectares of land were declared as Ecological Focus Areas (or EFAs) showing the commitment by UK agriculture to supporting and caring for our countryside. This study was carried out by the EU and it found that these EFAs significantly helped to support the environment in today’s farming landscape.

Education in agriculture now and in the future plays a pivotal role in getting future generations to understand the ways in which our food is sustainably produced as well as understanding the implications of a rising population, decreasing amount of farmland and the absolute need to maximise yields from all crops.

This will not be possible if the management tools farmers require are also taken away.