26 June 1998

Rethink for watercourse buffer zones on the way

By Andrew Blake

SPRAYING restrictions on pesticides labelled with rigid 6m watercourse buffer zones could be eased by next spring.

At a recent meeting of the Pesticides Forum, a joint industry body, MAFF asked the Pesticides Safety Directorate to develop a detailed scheme using principles developed under the Local Environmental Risk Assessment for Pesticides approach (Arable Feb 27).

Operators could then assess and record specific conditions and features and legally spray restricted products closer to watercourses than 6m where safe to do so, explains David Brightman, chairman of the NFUs pesticides working party.

One grower who would welcome such a move is Philip Hubbert, manager at Norfolk House Farm, Gedney Drove End, Lincs. As on other farms, particularly in the dyke-straddled fens, disease control has suffered because of current restrictions this season. Brigadier wheat has proved particularly troublesome.

The 810ha (2000-acre) unit produces mainly salad crops but also grows 270ha (670 acres) of winter wheat. The bulk of the 16ha (40 acre) field pictured received two half-rate mixes of Opus (epoxiconazole) and Amistar (azoxystrobin) at second node (GS32) and flag leaf (GS39). But because of the 6m buffer zone requirements on both products at the time of treatment, the headland next to the ditch remained unsprayed- with all too obvious results.

"The main problem is yellow rust," says Mr Hubbert. "I cant put a figure on the expected yield loss, but it could be quite considerable. We do make our input decisions with great awareness for the environment."

Since the sprays were applied the restriction on Amistar has been lifted, but that on Opus remains.

Elsewhere Folicur (tebuconazole), which has no 6m restriction, controlled headland disease, notes Mr Hubbert.

Logistics are a further concern. "On our scale the sprayer is flat out all the time." Having to stop, wash out and re-fill with products which can legally be applied right up to the waters edge, but may be less effective, wastes time and money, he explains.

BUFFER ZONES

&#8226 New scheme for spring?

&#8226 More grower flexibility.

&#8226 Wind speed inclusion unlikely.

&#8226 Current rules unenforceable.

NOPROSECUTIONS

&#8226 An HSE spokeswoman says it is impractical to monitor growers activities under current watercourse protection legislation. No farmers have yet been prosecuted for breaking the 6m rule.

&#8226 Confusion over which products have 6m restrictions continues with an indication that the buffer zone on Shirlan (fluazinam) was about to be lifted being retracted by PSD.

Strict adherence to fungicide label precautions to protect this watercourse looks set to cost Philip Hubbert dear as yellow rust romps in.