Farmer Focus: Time to act on my pesticide addiction

As New Year is traditionally a time for reflection, I find I have an admission to make: I have an addiction.

Yes, my name is Andrew and I am addicted to pesticides. I say addicted, as the more I use, the more I seem to need to use – and the less they work.

Looking at how the number and cost of grassweed and fungicide sprays I use has escalated (and the efficacy has declined) over the past 10 years highlights this.

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

What I have been doing is simply treating the symptoms without addressing the root causes and this had led to the apparent solutions eventually becoming the problems.

I have then been forced abruptly into change – for example, by spring cropping for grassweeds. How long before we are forced to change our cropping to cope with septoria?

Can we really increase yields for ever with a system that uses inputs from sources that will definitely run out at some point? If only we could find a system that continually regenerates in a cycle powered by the sun and doesn’t lose anything as waste.

I am years from it at present, despite having made a start with no tillage, constant ground cover and companion crops, plus no insecticides or T0s, and extensive varied wildlife areas.

Although I don’t fancy going cold turkey I’m clearly going to have to implement more fundamental changes and, in order to focus my efforts, it seems like a good idea (today anyway) to mention a new tweak in every column this year. Yes, there’s a good chance I’ll get nowhere.

I don’t want to become organic – what I would like to do is work with nature and then use the technology to boost it rather than fight against it.

Much as I disagree with attacks on mainstream farming by some groups, I am beginning to think that perhaps it is an inevitable backlash against a system that has gone too far in one direction and it could be a means to obtain some balance.

I’m not sure adopting any extreme is going to be the answer.

Andy Barr farms 700ha in a family partnership in Kent. Combinable crops amount to about 400ha and include milling wheat and malting barley in an increasingly varied rotation. He also grazes 800 Romney ewes and 40 Sussex cattle and the farm uses conservation agriculture methods.