Conventional horticultural crop production in the EU will not be viable if the Commission's proposals for reform of pesticides approval legislation become law, independent consultant Cathy Knott told growers at a NFU pesticides conference for the sector.
The Commission's proposals, which have been co-agreed by agriculture ministers across Europe, would have a severe impact on yield and quality, she said. "You may still be able to grow arable crops, but horticultural crops just wouldn't be viable."
The greatest threats were to carrot, strawberry, onion, lettuce and pea crops, she warned. Leeks and parsnips would also be severely affected.
Weed control, in particular, could be compromised in many of those crops. For example, in carrots, the current approvals directive, EC 91/414, has removed metoxuron, pentanochlor and prometryn from the market.
The Commission's proposals, according to the Pesticides Safety Directorate analysis, would also remove linuron, pendimethalin and metribuzin, leaving few chemical options, she said. "And those don't control a wide spectrum of weeds." Clomazone and prosulfocarb are two of the products that would escape deregistration.
Volunteer potato control would be a particular struggle without a prosulfocarb + linuron mix, following the loss of metoxuron.
Failing to control weeds that produced toxic weed parts, such as black nightshade berries or volunteer potato apples in vining pea crops, could be a serious threat to that industry, she said. "We've already seen problems in this year's crop, with 10% crop rejections in the field and 5% once in the factory. The situation isn't going to improve."
Extra cleaning was possible in the factory, but it had extra cost attached, she warned. "If vining peas become uneconomic to process, then factories could close and frozen and canned peas could be imported from outside the EU."
The loss of ioxynil on top of linuron and pendimethalin would be serious for onions, and metazachlor is important in brassica production.
In strawberries, propachlor and napropamide had been lost already, she said. "Losing pendimethalin would finish them off."
Mechanical weed control in some crops would be an option, but yields would be reduced because of less effective weed control, and growers would need extra hand labour, a resource they struggled to find already, she said. "Finding enough land to maintain production would be a problem, too."
Disease control in a number of crops would be compromised if triazole fungicides fell foul of any endocrine disruption hazard criteria, and the added restrictions proposed by the EU parliament would exacerbate any problems by removing alternative fungicides as well.
"But the Commission's proposals are serious enough," said Ms Knott. "The concern is that minor crops in the proposals just haven't been taken account of."
Onions under attack
Conventionally grown yields of onions could drop by more than 40% to about the 28t/ha yield of organic onions if the EU parliament's proposals came into effect, said Andy Richardson of the Allium and Brassica Centre.
Under the proposals, growers would have no insecticidal or nematicidal option, and very limited weed and disease control choices.
Only two of the herbicides - bentazone (as in Basagran) and fluroxypyr (as in Starane 2) - have any broad-leaved weed activity, while three have residual activity. "Weed control will be exceptionally difficult," said Mr Richardson. Controlling weeds by hand or mechanically typically costs up to £7000/ha for organic growers.
Overall, the result could be the loss of 20 of the current 37 useful active ingredients used by onion growers.
That would have a big impact for consumers, he said.
"We estimate these proposals would increase the cost of onions on the supermarket shelf by a conservative 190% from the current price of 88p/kg to £1.67/kg."