The stark financial reality of farming without vital sprays was laid bare to an MEP this week when a Kincardineshire cereals farmer presented European and Scottish politicians with projected gross margin figures for 2009, with and without access to the chemicals he currently takes for granted.
Contract farmer Andrew Moir, who grows 263ha (650 acres) of combineable crops near Laurencekirk, demonstrated that, without the use of chemicals, his gross margins would drop from £386/acre to £126/acre for wheat, and from £317/acre to £157/acre for oilseed rape. Spring barley for malting would fall from £331/acre to £148/acre and winter barley from £191/acre to only £76/acre.
Speaking on his farm, Mains of Thornton, as part of NFU Scotland’s campaign to persuade Europe’s policymakers to rethink the anti-pesticide legislation currently at a critical stage in Brussels, Mr Moir told politicians that high fertiliser and falling grain prices already made the economics of cereal production look marginal. He said losing key tools like herbicides and pesticides would make it a non-starter, and put farmers like him out of business.
“Crop yields for all the cereals would drop by a third and we would see fields ravaged by disease and weeds,” he said. “And the irony is that this threat comes at a time when we are being urged to make food production a priority. If the bellies of our European politicians weren’t full, they’d never be considering this legislation.”
MEP Ian Hudghton originally voted in favour of a modified pesticide ban, but after listening to Mr Moir and neighbouring farmers, said he would “more likely” vote against the proposed legislation in a future reading.
He added that he would be sending the NFU Scotland’s briefing document to other members of his European member group. But as his party, SNP, is part of the Green-European Alliance group, he was not confident of changing opinion.
The MEP was accompanied by Scottish Parliament member Nigel Don, who argued the balance of risk from using farm chemicals had not been thought through.
“If this legislation is passed, the risk to consumers is far greater from there being nothing on the food shelves in future than from any risk of chemical residue,” he said. “This threat to farming is much too far down the line than it should be. We must take more time to look at alternatives and invest in research and development before removing these essential chemicals.”