Agriculture

‘Can’t believe this has gone through’ – industry reacts as EU bans pesticide use on EFAs

The European Parliament has voted in favour of a ban on the use of pesticides on nitrogen-fixing crops, fallow, cover and catch crops contributing to Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs).

Emma Hamer, senior plant health adviser, NFU said the union believes the regulation will come into force on Jan 1, 2018, affecting BPS 2018. “We don’t think there’s any way this can be stopped now.”

Fifty-five per cent of EFAs comprised leguminous crops in 2016, said Ms Hamer.

She said the decision is a backward step for the environment. “If we can’t use plant protection products to establish legumes and flowers, there will be less seeds for birds and less pollen and less nectar for bees.”

It is not yet known whether pesticides will be able to be used this autumn e.g. glyphosate in advance of planting leguminous crops or floristically enhanced field margins or seed treatments on crops planned to contribute to EFA for next year’s BPS. “NFU is pushing for answers,” said Ms Hamer.

Farmers need to think carefully about how best to meet their 2018 Ecological Focus Area (EFA) requirements, said Ed Hutley of Strutt & Parker.

“The majority of our clients use peas or beans to meet their EFA requirements, but without pesticides their viability as break crop will be questionable.

“This means farmers will instead look to maximise any other fallow, buffer strips and hedges to use as EFA.”

Mr Hutley warned that farmers with CSS agreements face the added complication of double funding rules, which prevent farmers from being paid twice for the same activity.

“Farmers with Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) agreements preceding January 2012 were able to use relevant options in their ELS agreements to count towards their greening obligations without any changes to payments.

“However, these five-year agreements have now all come to an end and anyone in the new CSS will be affected by the double-funding rules, which mean that if CSS options are used for EFA then the CSS payment is slashed.

“Anyone in, or currently considering, a CSS agreement needs to consider how much hedge and buffer strips the farm has and be prepared to either fallow more areas for EFA or grow catch/cover crops.

“It is not a reason to avoid CSS, but it does need consideration. The answer may well be a catch crop from August to 1 October prior to late sown wheat or winter beans.”

Syngenta environmental initiatives manager Belinda Bailey said environmental management needed as much effort as crop management. “It doesn’t mean you can stand back and do nothing. You need to be able to use the correct tools in the correct way to get the most out of it not just leave it to a barren wilderness.”

She added that the regulation may put people off growing legumes in EFA areas.

Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) chairman Sean Sparling shares this opinion. “People are not going to grow peas and beans in particular knowing they can’t control pests and disease – so what is the point of drilling? Whereas up until now crops have been full of flowers, bee friendly and massive sources of pollen and nectar.”

He estimates spring bean cropping could have increased by 10-15 per cent since introduction of the EFA rules. “Farmers will grow far less from now on. It is a huge blow for pollinators and other wildlife.”

Roger Vickers of PGRO said: “I hope growers would grow pulses on their own merit not because they were growing them for a subsidy. Even if they are for EFA I hope growers will think long and hard before dropping them from the rotation.

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