23 November 2001

Pesticide shake-up will hurt

By Charles Abel

GROWERS are set to face big problems controlling pests, weeds and diseases in a wide range of vegetable and speciality crops, as almost two-thirds of existing pesticides lose their approval by 2003.

That was the stark warning to growers at last weeks British Crop Protection Council conference in Brighton (see also p46-49).

Of 834 pesticides 367 are already set to be withdrawn, mainly because suppliers do not want to fund their EU reapproval. So far just 11 chemicals have made it through the new, more rigorous EU approvals procedure, 63 are being evaluated and 393 are awaiting evaluation.

"In July 2003, 367 active ingredients will go, and I would not be surprised to see 500 go in total, as further actives fall. It is a pretty dismal picture," acknowledged the Pesticides Safety Directorates Peter Chapman.

In the UK 62 active ingredients are already due to be lost, 30 of which are considered crucial for production, including chlorfenvinphos, disulfoton, fomesafen, terbutryn, cyanazine and petamachlor.

Some active ingredients simply will not be made after 2003, including benazolin, metoxuron, oxadixyl and terbacil.

That will deal a body blow to the UK vegetable and speciality crop sector, warned Wokingham, Surrey-based agronomy consultant Ian Gillott. "We are in danger of losing all the [pesticide] technology we have developed over the past three decades at a stroke. There are no alternative products and no new ones coming, because the costs of development are so high."

Pesticides have helped growers produce quality crops cost effectively, he said. Now resistance is set to rise as fewer products are relied upon and costs could rocket as growers are forced to use more hand labour.

Growers are used to taking risks, but will a leek grower invest £2000/ha establishing a crop when there is no reliable way of controlling the weeds in it, he asked.

"I think growers have still not accepted that they are going to lose these chemicals. But there is no magic wand. The implications really are quite devastating. I think we are in danger of being left out in the cold."

Mr Gillott urged the industry to pursue the EUs essential use provisions to keep key active ingredients approved until 2007.

But that is not proving easy. Some grower groups had been established to defend key products, said NFU expert Chris Wise, chairman of a pan-European group trying to raise support for minor use products. "Groups for hops, blackcurrants, herbs and spices have been formed, with growers putting their hands in their pockets to co-operate."

But mobilising growers in other sectors is proving more difficult. Failure to secure support for important products could mean the production of some crops moves outside the EU, he warned.

"There are precedents of market collapse. Look at pears. When the use of chlormequat growth regulator on pears was lost in the UK, production fell 90% in five years. Carboril cost £20/ha whereas hand thinning cost £720/ha. Growers just could not compete."

Crops like swedes and turnips could be next. "A lot of people are putting great hope in mutual recognition and importing products from other member states. But that is not as straight forward as some grower groups think," Mr Wise warned. &#42

MINOR USES

&#8226 EU review of 834 ais.

&#8226 367 being withdrawn already.

&#8226 500 could go in total.

&#8226 Big grower headaches.

&#8226 Co-operate to defend.