Operators applying slug pellets are being encouraged to brush up their skills this autumn and slug pellet applicators are being added to the National Sprayer Testing Scheme as the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group redoubles its efforts to protect this important group of products.

Earlier this year it became clear that many operators were illegally applying pellets without the required PA4 qualification, believing that the boom sprayer PA2 qualifiaction was adequate, even though that derogation was withdrawn in 1994. Even the 8000 operators with a PA4 certificate were felt to be lacking the latest environmental information and best practice advice.

Rapid improvements in operator behaviour are essential to reduce metaldehyde residues in drinking water sources this autumn, said AIC spokesman Robin Leathart of Masstock. “These training courses were organised as a matter of urgency.”

Half day sessions will address slug biology, spreader calibration and application techniques, starting in September. The cost is likely to be £40-50. A short questionnaire at the end of the course can lead to existing certificates being upgraded.

Up to 1000 courses could be run over the winter, said Steve Hewitt of course provider the NPTC. From January 2010 a new pellet application module will be added to the PA system, so operators can qualify for slug pellet application without sitting the whole PA4 test.

Extending the NSTS to include MOT testing of slug pellet applicators is intended to address the lack of servicing, testing and calibration, said NSTS manager Duncan Russell. Cost is likely to be £100-140/machine. 20 centres are operational, with more due.

NFU representative Andrew Ward felt training days would appeal most to specialist operators already responsible for a farm’s spraying. He hoped the spreader MOT would not become part of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme.