21 April 1995

Nothing new about ICM – but lets tell the public about it

Integrated crop management is all the rage as the industry strives to revamp its image. Andrew Blake reports from last weeks ICM conference at the National Agricultural Centre, Warwicks

THERE is nothing fundamentally new about integrated crop management. Many farmers have practised it for years. But they need to be more positive about telling a critical public they are doing so.

That was the message for delegates to the joint farmers weekly/RASE/Rhone-Poulenc event.

The question growers must ask themselves is how far they have gone in meeting the all-embracing requirements of ICM, as outlined in the government white paper on sustainable development (see box).

As Prof Roy Brown of Plymouth University pointed out, it would be foolish to assume payments for the likes of set-aside, environmentally sensitive areas, and nitrate vulnerable zones will continue indefinitely.

"It is very dangerous to think that there will be an automatic transfer of money from product support to the environment. You can take it as read that all governments, of whatever colour, will be looking at ICM for the survival of British Agriculture."

Emphasising that the starting point was efficient, economic production, Prof Brown said formal interest in ICM began in Germany in the late 70s. It culminated in the UK last December with the linking, with MAFF backing, of several groups, LIFE, LINK:IFS, FOFP, LEAF, FWAG, under the banner of the Integrated Arable Crop Production Alliance.

He stressed that no one scheme had been going long enough for the long-term effects to be appreciated. But it was clear ICM required a "great deal of planning and flexibility", with the emphasis on accurate forecasting and focused monitoring. "At the end of the say its success lies in the hands of practical managers."