UK farmers and spray operators must continue to strive for the highest handling standards to ensure they keep pesticides out of water.

Although the Voluntary Initiative has done much to help, UK farmers did not have all the answers, pesticide application specialist Bill Taylor told a recent TOPPS trainers’ day at Harper Adams, Shropshire.

TOPPS – Training Operators to prevent Pollution from Point Sources – is a recently established pan-EU scheme funded by the EU Commission Life programme and the European Crop Protection Association.

It aims to reduce the risk of point-source pollution. That means pollution from a contaminated local area, which can easily occur during filling, handling, cleaning and disposal.

It accounts for between 40% and 90% of pesticides reaching water.

“The VI has done a tremendous job across the board in raising standards on farm and among operators, but in some countries other initiatives have existed for longer or are more demanding,” said Mr Taylor.

“For example, testing of field sprayers has been mandatory in Germany since 1993, while Belgium’s packaging recycling scheme has been in place since 1997.”

400 pieces of relevant advice

Best management practices for handling pesticides on the farm are the cornerstone of the TOPPS project. Simon Cooper, Harper Adams University College and the UK Partner Co-ordinator of TOPPS, said scheme partners had identified over 400 pieces of relevant advice from across Europe and distilled them down to six core processes from which to build training and advice modules.

These include simple procedures and operational check-lists on transport, storage and equipment calibration, as well as on application procedures like mixing and loading, avoiding contamination, and drift and run-off. Container disposal and management of unwanted stocks, leftover spray solutions and solid remnants were also included.

The key challenge for UK farmers and operators was implementing best practice, said VI manager Patrick Goldsworthy. “TOPPs has used many of the lessons learned from the VI. It has also picked up on topics such as transport and storage that are also important.”

Regulators were keeping a close watch on pesticide levels in water, he added. The most recent EA data showed 5.5% of raw water samples had pesticide residues above the 0.1ppb water quality standard.

TOPPS best practice guidelines have recently been sent to HGCA and Potato Council levy payers. Further publications will be offered, as well as practical advice and training using demonstration farms and open days.


  • Three-year project
  • 15 European Countries
  • 12 partner organisations
  • €2.6m funding
  • Operator training