Bureaucracy is big restraint on spray imports
By Andrew Blake
RED tape continues to thwart farmer efforts to import cheaper pesticides from the Continent. Despite guidelines from the Pesticides Safety Directorate the exercise remains full of snags.
"The PSDs yellow newsletter makes it seem easy," says farm consultant Paul Waberski of eastern counties land agent Brown & Co. "But it is not, apparently there have only been two licences issued to farmers this year.
"As there are supposedly no longer any trade barriers between states, one could be forgiven for thinking that importing one of these chemicals from another EU member state would be simple." Experience on behalf of a group of growers representing about 20,000ha (50,000 acres) shows the reverse.
The key barrier, under the PSDs parallel import licence scheme, is proving that a proposed import is identical to a product used in the UK, he explains.
"The two products may have the same active ingredients in the same strength and be made by the same company. But this is not sufficient evidence to prove `identicality."
Enquiries early this season highlighted potential savings on two cereal fungicides, both made by BASF. Opus (epoxiconazole) was selling in France for about £4/litre less than in the UK, and the French equivalent of Landmark (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole), Ogam, was £12/litre cheaper, says Mr Waberski.
In the event, bureaucratic delay meant none of the product arrived in time for use this season.
"There was quite a lot of administration needed." That included getting labels translated and all growers in the group to state their intended treatment areas and sign declarations that they would not sell the imports.
"Eventually we got it all together and lodged our applications with cheques on Mar 30." But PSD refused to process them, mainly because product identicality had not been proven, claims Mr Waberski. "PSD said the best way to do that was to have a lab test beforehand."
However, for liability reasons he believes, PSD could not recommend a suitable lab. Instead, in response to a phone call on May 21, it suggested he apply to the Department of Health for a list of possible firms.
In the meantime a trawl of the internet found the cheapest chemical analysis to do the job costs £500/test. The licence fee is £290. "That means a total expenditure of £790/chemical before a single litre can be legally imported.
"We have now got samples from France and are having them tested. But we have missed a season.
"As this bureaucratic regime stands it is no wonder chemical companies can keep their prices in the UK artificially high. Surely now is the time to challenge not only the manufacturers but also the trade barrier which means UK farmers pay more.
"The one good thing about it is that once a farmer does manage to get a licence it stays in force as long as the equivalent product is approved in the UK."
NFU pesticides specialist Chris Wise says the issue of identicality, currently the subject of a European Court ruling, is leading to growing frustration among growers.
"Sorting it out"
"We have been trying to sort it out all season. The definition is fraught with legal hurdles and nobody seems to want to define it."
A MAFF spokeswoman denies PSD is being obstructive and maintains 11 own-use import approvals have been issued since 1994. All products used in the UK must be approved before use, she says. "It is an issue of safety."
* Cheaper products abroad.
* Import licensing system.
* Identicality a key issue.
* Bureaucratic delays.
* Protecting higher UK prices?
• Cheaper products abroad.
• Import licensing system.
• Identicality a key issue.
• Bureaucratic delays.
• Protecting higher UK prices?
Spray opportunities have been few and far between at Michael Clarks Decoy Farm, Upper Wichendon, Aylesbury, Bucks. Eralier this week contractor Derek Cherition seized the day, sneaking a C-Flo (carbendazim) and Ultrafaber (chlorothalonil) tank-mix on to Punch beans to control chocolate spot.
No yellow rust
DESPITE highly conducive conditions for yellow rust, no infections have been confirmed crops of winter barley this season.
Widespread use of highly susceptible varieties like Melanie and Regina raised fears of an epidemic as seen in winter wheat. "But so far we have not confirmed a single case in commercial winter barley," says NIABs Rosemary Bayles.
Several expected outbreaks, most notably in Yorks, proved to be brown rust, she notes. "The conditions have been right – damp and cool – so it may be that inoculum levels are climbing from a very low base. The last epidemic was over 10 years ago.
However, large areas of highly susceptible winter barley varieties remain a risk, Dr Bayles stresses. "It is something growers need to keep in the back of their minds."
Covered beet – yes, but…
SUGAR beet under plastic brings earlier and heavier crops. But cost prohibits commercial application, for now at least, says British Sugar.
"Either the price of plastic and planting technology has to come down, or the price of beet has to go up," says the firms Mike Armstrong. "And we know the price of beet will not rise."
The plastic technique has given yield increases of 8-15% in three years of trials, but cost of application is about £240/ha (£97/acre) says Jonathan Pilbrow, BS research projects manager.
Initially the experiments used a modified maize drill, but this was succeeded by a purpose built machine placing seed through the plastic. Faster emergence and more rapid early growth mean the crop reaches full leaf cover sooner, resulting in better yields. Typically drilling could take place a fortnight earlier under plastic, suggests Mr Pilbrow.
Weed control, though, presents a problem. Herbicides penetrate the plastic for only 24-48hrs after drilling. The next opportunity for treatment is after the covering disintegrates, 2-3 months later.
The trials programme is unlikely to be continued, but the yield database obtained means the industry could react swiftly if the practice became viable, says Dr Armstrong. "But a drop in plastic price seems unlikely, as high return crops such as carrots set the price."
Earlier, bigger sugar beet crops are possible using plastic, says British Sugars Jonathon Pilbrow. But costs outweigh returns, for the moment at least, he says.
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