URGENT ACTION is needed to ensure continued Voluntary Initiative success, scheme backers said at Smithfield last week (Dec 2-5).

“With an election year coming, it‘s vital farmers show the Government the VI can deliver results on the ground,” said Patrick Goldsworthy of the manufacturers‘ Crop Protection Association.

The pre-budget report‘s carrot and stick message repeated Government backing for the VI concept, but stressed that the option of an economic instrument [tax] was still under review.

Progress towards next year‘s targets is currently poor, just 202,000ha of Crop Protection Management Plans having been logged with the NFU compared with a Mar 31 target of 900,000ha.

Sprayer testing was faring little better, with 2357 tests done, representing 16.2% of the arable area, against a target of approx 8500 tests to meet the target of half the nation‘s arable area.

In such a tricky season that was good, said Anne Abell of the Agricultural Engineers Association, which administers the scheme.

“We‘ve already tested more than half the machines we did last year, and last year most sprayers were tested from Dec to April.”  

With 18,854 members on the National Register of Sprayer Operators the Mar 31 target has been smashed, but operators need to earn development points.

He also hoped an announcement on the proposed container retrieval scheme was imminent.

“It may be that Government is waiting to tell us about support funding when it launches its Waste Disposal Consultation next Thursday (Dec 16).” 

He also drew particular attention to the wet season and the need for the right herbicide choices, recommending growers check the VI‘s herbicide decision tree at www.voluntrayinitiative.co.uk.