22 November 1996

CAP reform means an uncertain future for agrochemicals

On the first day of the Brighton Crop Protection Conference new products and the future of the industry were discussed. Charles Abel, Andrew Blake and Robert Harris report

EUROPEAN farmers may be using more – or less – agrochemical inputs after CAP reform, according to the keynote speaker at this years conference.

Admitting his assessments were speculative, Allan Buckwell of Wye College, Kent, suggests political changes could swing the use of crop protection products either way.

The combined effects of reduced support and protection of the major subsidised crops with a more open trade regime will be complex and will differ from crop to crop, he believes.

Without a detailed set of assumptions – based on the world price for grain, itself affected by a whole range of factors, not least Asias economic growth and policy changes in the former Soviet Union – it is hard to predict whether EU cereal production will increase or decline, says Prof Buckwell.

Clearer effect

"For the currently more heavily protected crops like sugar, tobacco and wine where there are no set-aside provisions, the effect of removing support is clearer." Area is likely to fall along with the use of agrochemicals, he says.

Environmental support is also likely to be associated with reduced agchem useage, although regional policies could bring much variation, he adds. The effect of former Soviet countries joining an enlarged EU is even harder to predict. "Most of them have a lot of catching up to attain EU standards for clean crops and disease-free produce." But lower-cost production might to some extent displace current EU-15 output.

"The impact of this switch on crop protection would need careful crop by crop and country by country analysis," says Prof Buckwell.

He acknowledges that CAP overspending on cereals and oilseeds support currently amount to 11bn ecu a year. Any new support system would remove that, putting pressure on input systems.

But pesticide usage could be the least affected by any changes, notes BCPC chairman, John Finney. "Agrochemicals form a relatively small part of the equation and the return from their use is very high. Proportionately they should be less hit than other aspects of crop production."

Future pesticide use is hard to predict, says Alan Buckwell.