Pesticide handling and use has improved significantly over the past 10 years, but many farmers still need to adjust some of their practices, according to a survey.

Nearly all farmers in the Voluntary Initiative and Catchment Sensitive Farming Delivery Initiative report dispose of interior tank washings on crops or approved disposal sites, actively manage foil seals and carefully wash out containers.

But a large number still use inappropriate filling areas and the disposal of external sprayer washings needs to improve.

A total of 205 farmers were surveyed between November 2009 and March 2010, each growing at least 50ha of arable crops across England and Scotland, covering a total area of 70,000ha.

More than 70% of the survey group believe it is relatively easy to comply with advice on pesticide handling, but more than 90% recognise they could make further improvements on their farms.

Many operators still don’t see pesticides in watercourses as a particular problem in their region with 78% scoring the issue below 5 on a scale of 1-10.

Filling areas need the biggest improvement, with almost half the group admitting to filling on compacted hardcore and 39% on unmanaged concrete.

Farmers need to focus on getting the location and filling surface correct, said VI manager Patrick Goldsworthy. “There has been confusion over the years as to what is the right surface to use. In recent seasons, it has become clear that the best option is managed concrete leading to a sump or lined bio-bed.”

The filling area needs to be 10m or more away from any watercourse or drain. This is a long-standing requirement from regulators, he added.

Farmers have made significant progress since the scheme’s launch, with 95% disposing of tank washings to crops or an environment agency-approved disposal site, and 99% actively managed foil seals, according to the survey.

Almost all farmers managed container caps effectively, although 35% were replacing caps on empty containers, which prevents them drying out. Most reckoned they were doing a good job rinsing out containers, but cited poor container design and sticky formulations as the chief reasons for incomplete cleaning.

For more information on pesticide best practice visit our three pesticide academies at www.fwi.co.uk/academy/arable