25 May 2002

Wild West attitudes at the WTO

HARD times for farmers are bad news, whether they are here or abroad. So therell be mixed feelings on hearing about the generous handouts granted to the hard-pressed US farmers in the new Farm Bill, signed by President Bush this month.

Contrary to what is popularly believed, US farmers are subsidised through a loan system, which effectively guarantees a minimum price for main commodities – much as the old deficiency payment system did here in the UK before the CAP. Now this support is set to rise by 67%. Good for them – but bad for us.

Crude arithmetic puts the US support at $9,000/farmer/year. This compares with $5,560/farmer/year in Europe, according to an analysis in The Times. And yet at the WTO table, the US is still fighting to have EU support cut back and "protectionism" removed.

This is double talk. The EU is appalled, as is Australia, keen supporter of free trade in a fair, global marketplace. The US has one set of rules for itself, but at the same time, trying to impose another set of rules on its neighbours. The WTO must not accept this Wild West philosophy.

Making a drama out of GM

THE biotech industry should brace itself for another onslaught. Coming to a TV screen near you next month on BBC is a thriller series called: Fields of Gold. No prizes for guessing that GM oilseed rape will be playing a leading role.

True to the format of a conspiracy theory type plot, GM crops and the global biotech companies will inevitably be classed as the sinister bad guys, with the story probably played out against a backdrop of corrupt politicians, mysterious ill-effects from genetic pollution, weird scientists and the noble hero/heroine battling against seemingly overpowering odds to defeat the machinations of the GM industry. But dont let us spoil the plot line for you…

The choice of subject mirrors the fears and anxieties of the time. Witness the thrillers of 15 years ago, when nuclear power politics which provided the scenery for conspiracy theory and corruption thrillers. Now biotechnology has replaced nuclear power as the public bogeyman.

This type of bad publicity is hard to counter, because it doesnt deal with facts, it deals with emotions, and plays on these, for the purpose of increasing tensions in the audience. And sadly, good drama may be all the more gripping if you ditch the odd fact or two. Watch and be warned.

Three strobs for good measure?

EVERYONE tries to be responsible with pesticide use. Professional growers cannot afford to do otherwise – and wouldnt want to. But with ear sprays, the guidelines will be broken by a large majority next month.

The FRAC guidelines limit strob sprays to two per crop, per season. They have always been voluntary, but the growers have supported them in principle. However, this season that two-spray limit will largely be ignored.

Part of the problem is the arrival of the new strobs, which have put more emphasis on a strob-based T1/T2 programme. When it then comes to the ear treatment, theres really no non-strob alternative to an Amistar mix on the milling quality wheats.

Where does this leave the guidelines? They were set out to protect the UK against resistance. But the horse has bolted; strob-insensitive mildew is here. However, the impact has not been that painful over here; in the main, strobs are always used with a partner product and this must partly explain why the UK has not experienced the problems seen elsewhere in Europe.

Its time for FRAC to have a re-think on these guidelines, which need updating to accommodate the practical situation on farms. Growers dont want to be forced to break the rules.