17 May 1996

Makers being coy with pesticide facts – claim…

By Andrew Blake

MARKETING ploys threaten the safe, effective use of pesticides, according to a Suffolk farm manager. Manufacturers disagree.

Dominic Watts, manager at the 600ha (1500-acre) Rushbrooke Farms, near Bury St Edmunds, claims his recent experience trying to glean information from chemical makers and distributors highlights a growing problem.

"`Read the label before you buy; use pesticides safely is a familiar instruction," says Mr Watts. But some manufacturers policies offering different distributors identical active ingredients under a range of product names make it increasingly hard to follow, he maintains.

His requests for information about new pesticides and more details on those already used on the farm have drawn varied responses. One company was particularly unhelpful. And product manuals of others are far from comprehensive, omitting some items altogether, he says.

Certain on tank-mixes

In the past, when an independent consultant was employed, the farm used wild oat killer tralkoxydim. "Now that we are doing our own agronomy I wanted to be absolutely sure about its tank-mixing."

However, the manufacturer was reluctant to supply him with labels to check this and other details, he claims. "The answer I got was that tralkoxydim required skills in application that werent on the label. When I asked what they were their technical man said `pass."

The sugar beet herbicide Betanal Tandem (ethofumesate + phenmedipham) does not appear in AgrEvos product manual, he notes. "Betanal E is there but not Betanal Tandem or Betanal Progress. Obviously AgrEvo want you to go through their approved distributors to get information."

Distributors naturally prefer not to waste time providing details unless a sale can be expected, he reasons. "But if you do your own agronomy and buy on price as we do, you dont want to be tied to one supplier."

Mr Watts believes the current market-driven scenario often leaves manufacturers technical staff embarrassed. But with growers under increasing pressure to use pesticides safely and efficiently, companies must be more forthcoming, he argues.

Members uneasy

NFU pesticides specialist Dr Chris Wise concedes that the limited distributorships of some manufacturers are causing unease amongst some members, especially in Oxon and Glos. "I have received correspondence from farmers expressing irritation with this style of marketing. But the practice is perfectly legal, and in a free market there is little we can do about it."

It is worth remembering that to facilitate the exercise, manufacturers face extra expense registering alternative names and labels, he adds.

However, Dr Wise does not accept that there is a shortage of technical help available. "Distributors are obliged to give out any information that is on labels."

Are you still getting the product advice you want from manufacturers and distributors?Gaps seem to be opening, causing consternation among growers.