The increasing importance of Product Stewardship

22nd October 2018

Views from: Dave Ellerton, HL Hutchinsons Ltd
Some of our key crop protection products face an uncertain future as they come up for re-registration under stringent environmental criteria, are found above legal limits in water, become increasingly affected by resistance or come under pressure from lobby groups.

Picture1As far as water is concerned te crop most affected would be oilseed rape with the herbicides propyzamide, carbetamide, clopyralid, quinmerac and metazachlor frequently detected above Drinking Water Directive limits (see table above).

With herbicide resistance continuing to build, these active ingredients are crucial if oilseed rape is to remain a viable option into the future. Furthermore, they provide the opportunity to keep resistant grass weeds in particular, under control within the wider rotation.

Similarly, if we lost the most widely detected crop protection ingredient metaldehyde – used for the control of slugs and snails particularly on heavy land – then this would leave only ferric phosphate as an option. While ferric phosphate is an effective alternative, in a high-risk season supplies may not meet demand, should we lose metaldehyde from our armoury.

It is important that growers utilise the What’s In Your Backyard (WIYBY) website in order to identify specific risks to water on their farm.

As far as pest control is concerned the main threat at present is the ever-increasing incidence of resistance in pests such as grain aphid, peach potato aphid, cabbage stem flea beetle and others, particularly to the pyrethroids. The impending loss of neonicotinoid seed dressings is likely to exacerbate the situation with farmers having to rely on pyrethroids for pest control due to the lack of viable alternatives.

Similarly disease control is becoming increasingly difficult with widespread resistance to key fungicide groups such as triazoles, strobilurins and SDHIs found in diseases such as Septoria in wheat and net blotch and Ramularia in barley. This situation could become worse if product re-registration results in restrictions on the use of some active ingredients or their complete loss from the market. Of particular concern is the situation with chorothalonil which plays a vital role in the control of both Septoria and Ramularia.

Therefore, as an industry, it is vital that we use products sustainably – not only to maintain them in the market place– but also to protect water, the wider environment and human health. In addition the way we use products is crucial if we are to avoid driving resistance to weeds, pests and diseases through exerting too much selection pressure.

There are a number of stewardship guidelines available for a range of products, often going beyond the label restrictions, which will help us to achieve these aims. Growers and advisors need to adhere to these even when they are voluntary.

The industry is involved in a number of initiatives to promote the uptake of product stewardship schemes. Examples include, NRoSo training of spray operators to apply products in a way that minimises risk to water and the environment as well as wide ranging support for measures such as the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group guidelines.

These guidelines include adhering to buffer zones – particularly next to water courses, applying only during set time periods and not when heavy rain is forecast or when drains are flowing. The correct use of nozzles, water volumes, boom height and forward speed will help minimise drift as well as optimising control.

The recent Government Health and Harmony white paper emphasised the importance of protecting and enhancing the environment in our farming practices and utilising Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques as a vital part of that. These techniques will use a range of cultural control measures to reduce weed, pest and disease pressure and enable growers to use crop protection products only when, and where, necessary. By limiting over use of plant protection products these approaches will not only increase crop profitability but will also reduce the risk of resistance increasing.

In addition precision farming techniques can help produce risk maps for fields, for instance to identify areas at risk from blackgrass and slugs and guide optimum use of herbicides and slug pellets through targeted application.

For the future of our industry it is vital that we all steward our crop protection products wisely if we are to maintain key actives in the market, preserve our ability to control the many threats to yield and ensure our crops remain profitable, whatever the future might hold. This is in all our interests but it only takes a few individuals to ignore these guidelines and misuse products potentially leading to dire consequences for agriculture. It is vital that we all work together to use these products in a way which optimises efficacy but also cares for our environment.

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