Guy Smith: Why we should all have our say on spray

Essex farmer Guy Smith is calling for growers everywhere to respond to the government’s pesticides consultation.

Here he explains why:

“Like most farmers, I relish form-filling about as much as I relish blood poisoning. It is one of those jobs that is all too easy put off until tomorrow. However, there is a form on the DEFRA website that I would urge you to look at and fill in.

It is part of a consultation exercise looking at issues surrounding pesticide use, particularly the vexed issue of notification for “bystanders”, probably better described as residential neighbours.

When I talk to farmers about this issue the usual response is that generally there are no problems with 99% of their neighbours. Most have been spraying beside gardens for years without complaint.

However, among this harmony there are some notable and highly vocal exceptions. It is quite clear some people feel their health is being seriously compromised by the use of crop protection materials and, not surprisingly, they feel very strongly about it to the point they’ll take every opportunity to speak out and complain.

And this may be the nub of the problem. For the silent majority, spraying doesn’t appear to be a problem but you don’t hear much from the reticent, no matter how content they may be. This makes it imperative that we farmers speak out to keep the issue in balance. But, let’s face it, it’s hardly in our nature, is it?

Let me give you a neat illustration of this. Ten years ago the Curry Commission consulted widely and thoroughly in investigations that eventually led to a very important report that affected farm policy at the highest level. If you look at the back of the report there are long lists of all those organisations that bothered to make submissions.

They include the Wellington Llama Club, Camden Council and Bath Association of Graduate Women. But farmer organisations listed, particularly local or regional farmer groups, are notable only by their scarcity.

What mystifies me here is that I know for a fact that across rural Britain there are hundreds of farmers’ clubs and agricultural associations with collective memberships that amount to tens of thousands. But, while they spend time and energy organising shows and ploughing matches or putting together farm walks and winter meetings, they would never consider replying to a government consultation exercise on an issue that affects the everyday activities of farmers.

And yet, in complete contrast, there is a legion of small, largely non-agricultural, highly politically motivated groups who are poised over their computer keyboards keen to have their say.

I have no doubt that this piece will provoke some letters to Farmers Weekly lambasting me for daring to suggest concerns about pesticides are in some way talked up by a vocal minority. I hope it does, because it will prove my very point. Meanwhile thousands of farmers will read the article and then get on with some “proper” work.”

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