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By Charles Abel
FARMERS keen to ensure their grain stores meet assurance scheme criteria should approach the issue from the pests point of view.
That mindset and a good understanding of pest biology can see most problems overcome, says Shaun Hotchkiss, managing director of national pest control adviser and fumigation specialist Allport Environmental Health.
"From the pests perspective the grain store is a comfortable, safe haven, full of food for the taking. That is what we need to guard against."
Farmers must get away from the traditional view of crops as commodities and look at them as food – food for pests as well as consumers, he says
"Many grain processors now conduct scientific tests to check samples for non-visual contamination. Vermin faeces, urine or hair, insects, mites and mould are all unacceptable, even at trace levels.
"The food industry is on a knife edge. Nobody wants to be the butt of the next BSE-type food scare. And the retailers they sell to have to protect their food safety obligations too."
Farmers should use all means available to assess and minimise pest risks and monitor to avoid subsequent infestation, Mr Hotchkiss stresses. "Pest prevention has to become part of the life-cycle of crop products."
Allport offers an initial consultation service, involving a farm inspection and preparation of a pest control strategy, for £40-£60.
Once farmers have measures in place a pre-audit check can ensure they meet the criteria of an assurance scheme, for a similar fee.
"We know what the verifiers are looking for so we can ensure farmers are complying with those standards."
The company also offers pest monitoring and control. Fumigation of stored grain, for example, is backed by a season-long guarantee of freedom from pests. Cost is from £1.35/t in ideal circumstances, but up to £4/t in the worst case scenario," Mr Hotchkiss explains.
One of the most important areas Allport can advise on is record-keeping, he adds. "For many farmers this is the biggest headache. But we can show what needs recording and how often, to provide useful management advice and meet the standards."
Pests beware…integrated control backed by professional advice spells doom for store pests, says Shaun Hotchkiss of Allport Environmental.
Grain store fumigation could see big changes this year as Allport prepares to launch a new alternative to methyl-bromide fumigation. "The Montreal Protocol is looking to remove or reduce non-essential uses of methyl-bromide fumigant," says Mr Hotchkiss. "While phosphine is the most obvious alternative, it is not suitable for every situation. The disadvantages are that it does not work below 10C, penetration of grain bulks is poor, it does not penetrate hot spots and grain cant be used for up to two weeks after. We are developing a fast-acting alternative which should be available to farmers next year." Allport believes the approach could give it a major boost in the agricultural market. Watch this space.