27 February 1998

Industry is split on buffer zone spray scheme

By Andrew Blake

MUCH of the work to support a more flexible approach to spraying near watercourses has been done and growers should be allowed to take advantage of it without delay.

That is the view of David Brightman, chairman of the NFUs working party on pesticides, commenting on the latest Local Environmental Risk Assessment for Pesticides (LERAP)proposal from the Advisory Committee on Pesticides.

But UKASTA, another of the 85 organisations recently consulted on the ACPs provisional proposal, is far from happy with the LERAP idea.

A LERAP (Arable Aug 1, 1997) would allow a spray operator to evaluate and record specific conditions and features which could justify reducing the current strict water protection buffer zones imposed on certain pesticides.

"LERAP should be introduced as quickly as possible and include all possible factors to alleviate the costs of indiscriminate 6m buffer zones," says Dr Brightman, a former FW barometer grower. He believes that can be done without reducing environmental protection.

But UKASTAs agrochemicals specialist Derek Ward takes a different view. "The calculation of a LERAP is fraught with all sorts of difficulties."

UKASTA believes its members could end up having to conduct the assessments on behalf of farmers. "That would involve them in extra work and mean they would have to carry the can if something went wrong."

Firm, fixed buffer zones, uncropped as conservation areas if possible or sprayed only with benign products, are the way ahead, suggests Mr Ward.

Factors which LERAP could immediately take into account, according to the ACP, include the size and flow rate of the watercourse and whether a reduced dose is being applied. Other points which might enter calculations are engineering controls and windbreaks.

The ACP rejects the ideas that the quality of the watercourse and wind direction should be included. Although the latter might be expected to reduce water contamination, there is said to be no firm evidence. And wind direction is variable, it points out.

Dr Brightmans key concern is the ongoing cost of rigid buffer zones, which the ACP proposal acknowledges may not always be strictly necessary.

"Some of our orchard members face 36m buffer zones that cost them an absolute fortune." Many orchards already have very effective windbreaks to stop wind getting in, he points out. "We believe they are equally effective at preventing pesticides getting out. The NFU is pressing that where there is a windbreak the buffer zone should be halved immediately."

The ACP accepts the windbreak principle, but says research must prove the point before simple rules for farmers to follow can be developed.

More studies on engineering controls such as low drift nozzles – as suggested by the ACP – are unnecessary, claims Dr Brightman. "They say they need more data. We say the manufacturers have all that is needed and it could be incorporated immediately. The British Crop Protection Council has done a lot of work on classifying nozzles. Why wait?"

Disregarding wind direction and speed could undermine the whole LERAP concept, he adds. "If the wind is blowing away from a watercourse it is obvious you dont need a buffer zone. Both the NFU and the BCPC say the scheme will be brought into disrepute if you ignore wind direction."

But Mr Ward highlights the problem of policing decisions based on wind direction and speed. "It would be impossible to check afterwards whether an assessment was accurate or not."

Hedgerows, which may at first sight protect watercourses from spray drift, often create eddies which can be more hindrance than help, he adds.

&#8226 A spokesman for the Environment Agency says it regards the ACP suggestions as very logical. "There are many circumstances where it may be sensible to reduce the size of buffer zones, for example where the watercourse is very large and there is plenty of dilution."

One the other hand the EA believes a minimum 2m buffer zone for all pesticides would be sensible, he says.

"The big question mark though is over enforceability. Is it workable in practice?"

LERAP

&#8226 Flexible water buffer zones.

&#8226 Recorded risk assessments.

&#8226 Rigid restriction zones costly.

&#8226 Research mostly done.

&#8226 Wind direction debate.

&#8226 Enforcement difficulties.

LERAP

&#8226 Flexible approach to water buffer zones proposed.

&#8226 Recorded risk assessments.

&#8226 Rigid restriction zones costly.

&#8226 Research mostly done.

&#8226 Wind direction debate.

&#8226 Enforcement difficulties.

1997 Farm Sprayer Operator of the Year finalist Mark Gardner already checks wind speed and direction before spraying. LERAP could help him use similar assessments to justify narrower buffer zones in future.