Farmers are being asked whether they would be willing to voluntarily alert neighbours before they go spraying.

The NFU is seeking views on using a voluntary approach to prior notification, in the light of an on-going court case between campaigner Georgina Downs and DEFRA.

The case is due to resume on 18 May when DEFRA’s appeal against the Ms Downs’ will be heard.

Georgina Downs’ case is that DEFRA has failed to carry out its duty to protect neighbours under existing European Union pesticide regulations.

A judge ruled in her favour in November 2008 and it is this verdict that DEFRA is appealing against.

The union has said that comments made by DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn recently suggest that it is likely that some new rules will have to be introduced.

The NFU has issued a briefing document on its website which says if measures need to be introduced it is “far better if they are industry led”.

The issue of prior notification is a controversial issue with many farmers arguing that pesticides are tightly-regulated already and notifying neighbours would not be practical.

But the union says it is seeking views in the hope that it can come up with a solution that suits concerned residents, as well as farmers.

Options suggested include sending a letter to all households bordering a farm each winter which asks if they want to be notified by text message before a relevant field is sprayed. The onus would be on the neighbour to contact the farmer to ‘opt in’ if they wanted to.

The text message could say something as simple as “spraying field today in one hour etc”.

An alternative is that a letter would be sent as above but the neighbour would respond to the Chemical Regulations Directive (formerly the PSD) who would then inform the farmer if the neighbours wanted to be notified. They would also receive a text.

Do you support a voluntary scheme? Which of the two options would you prefer? What is the definition of a neighbour? Share your thoughts on the forums.