19 August 1997

Cheap imported pesticides put pressure on UK

SAVINGS of up to 40% are prompting renewed interest in importing pesticides from the Continent and putting pressure on manufacturers to cut UK prices.

The strong pound, making comparative products much cheaper in France and Germany, as well as renewed Pesticides Safety Directorate guidelines on how to import legally and safely are behind the current surge in so-called parallel imports.

Details of the extent of the business are hard to come by. A PSD spokesman declined to comment on the uptake of the guidelines since their launch two months ago. But one East Anglian distributor suggests more material is coming in than has done since Dicuran (chlorotoluron) herbicide was brought in on some scale a decade ago. Northants is said to be a hot-bed of activity, but growers in Lincs and the south-east are also said to be benefiting.

Biggest savings are to be had on fungicides, say observers. But autumn weed-killers such as metazachlor (as in Butisan) are said to be 10-20% cheaper when imported.

Merchants who sell pesticides of foreign origin face tougher rules than growers whose use of such products is confined to themselves or their employees. Nevertheless there is a growing temptation for distributors to bring in less expensive material and pass on some, if not all, of the savings.

Sterling strength

"We would obviously have to look at the market if manufacturers dont respond to protect us," says one supplier. Already isoproturon is selling for 25% less than it was this time last year, he notes.

Main trigger for importers was the sudden rise in the strength of sterling in the spring, explains another. "It went from 2.25 to 3Dm in the space of a few weeks." Although denying directly importing such material, he points out that firms specialising in such business provide alternative sources, albeit at slimmer margins.

Mark Willmot is sales manager for Willmot Pertwee, now part of what is claimed to be the worlds biggest agrochemical distributor, United Agri Products. "We are not importing because we think the future lies very much with the mainstream R&D-based manufacturers." Doing so for short term gain could destroy long term relationships, he explains.

Dennis Hall of Yorks-based Indpendent Agriculture agrees. "We are very close to the major manufacturers so we have got to be careful." Hard-pressed growers are increasingly resorting to parallel imports, he concedes. "You cannot blame them. It is not helping us as distributors, but that is the way it goes." In the long term prices either side of the channel will be brought more in line, he suggests.

Northants-based east midlands barometer grower Justin Blackwood acknowledges parallel importing is on the increase and is more organised than previously. "A lot of people are doing it." But as part of a strong buying group renegotiating arrangements with distributors he has, to date, held back from taking part.

"The price differentials probably wont be as great as thought at the end of the day. The pound is weakening again." Longer term UK prices will become much more competitive with those abroad, he believes.

A spokesman for one firm long involved in importing chemicals warns that it is not always as easy as it seems. "Ensuring similarity of products involves fairly stringent analysis and testing or you fall at the first fence."

BAA director Dr Anne Buckenham welcomes the PSDs decision to re-issue its guidelines. "It makes farmers aware of the processes they have to go through."

&#8226 More on parallel imports on p56.n

PESTICIDE IMPORTS

&#8226 Big savings.

&#8226 Growing volume.

&#8226 Strong £ driver.

&#8226 PSD guidelines.

&#8226 Pressure on UK prices.

&#8226 Big savings.

&#8226 Growing volume.

&#8226 Strong £ driver.

&#8226 PSD guidelines.

&#8226 Pressure on UK prices.