20 November 1998

Danes suffer for ignoring green lobby

BRITISH farmers must learn from the mistakes of Danish growers who ignored environmental debate and face crippling fertiliser and pesticide controls.

That stark message came from Danish farm adviser Jakob Kjaersgaard at the Crops Scottish conference in Perth last week.

"Danish agriculture has paid a high price for not accepting that farming methods were a matter of interest for the rest of society which had a right to be critical," he said.

In 1986 nitrate leaching from farm land was blamed for polluting the Kattegat Sea. "Politicians panicked and, although there was no proof, an environmental action plan was decided within weeks. Agricultural organisations turned their backs on the debate and lost any chance to shape the plan," said Mr Kjaersgaard.

"We now have stocking limits, a fixed season for spreading manure, a requirement to have nine months manure storage, autumn catch crops to retain nitrate, minimum use of nitrogen in fertilisers, fixed nitrogen standards for each crop, and compulsory fertiliser plans and records.

"Each year a percentage of farmers will be checked and fined if restrictions are not followed. The fine for 1999 will be £1 for every kg of nitrogen applied above the calculated need.

A pesticides action plan was also introduced with a treatment frequency index aimed at cutting chemical application by 50%. "But targets were not reached and we now have increased taxes – 56% on insecticides and 33% on the rest.

"Our parliament has appointed a committee to assess the consequences of a complete or partial stop in the use of pesticides and the consequences of changing to organic farming. The report will play an important role in shaping the next pesticide action plan.

"Danish farming is fighting for its economic life with no support from the rest of society," said Mr Kjaersgaard.

Allan Wright

Danish inputs lessons.

* High price for ignoring debate.

* Tough restrictions and taxes.

* Little public sympathy.

* New action plan on the way.