In December DEFRA published its response to a consultation on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, that could have serious implications for UK growers. Tom Allen-Stevens quizzed NFU’s Paul Chambers on what it actually means
• Where does the response to the DEFRA consultation leave farmers?
The consultation asked for views on two separate pieces of legislation: the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and some aspects of a Regulation on the Marketing of Plant Protection Products (PPP). Three approaches were offered for the UK to meet the requirements of the directive: maintain the status quo, additional voluntary measures or regulate.
The UK has a host of measures already in place, both legislative and voluntary, that largely meet the requirements set out in the directive – a point the NFU has been making all along. We have the Voluntary Initiative (VI), measures such as the National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS), along with others such as the Good Neighbour Initiative.
In its response, DEFRA has recognised that these all meet the requirements of the directive. So as long as you follow them, you will need to make very few changes to your on-farm practice.
¶• Does that mean there will be no need to notify neighbours about spraying?
DEFRA has concluded that there is no statutory need for operators to warn neighbours before spraying, but they do encourage farmers to develop good relationships with their neighbours.
Our view is that communication is the key. If anyone asks, talk to them openly and honestly about why you spray and the practices you follow to minimise spray drift or nuisance to others. Agree an acceptable plan to overcome specific concerns – this could be to avoid spraying at certain times of the day, a voluntary notification scheme, or a no-spray zone. There’s more guidance in the Good Neighbour Initiative, developed by the NFU and available on the NFU website.
• Have there been any changes suggested to training requirements?
Grandfather rights will be phased out. The directive requires that a system of training and certification programmes be in place by 2013. Those covered by grandfather rights will need to show they are following some sort of training, but DEFRA hasn’t yet specified what this should be.
DEFRA has indicated it favours the National Register of Sprayer Operators (NRoSO) as the best system to take this forward. Those currently covered by the grandfather exemption would be considered to have met the training requirement if they are on the NRoSO register and won’t have to undertake full NPTC qualifications, although they can if they wish. We’d strongly advise anyone who sprays to join NRoSO and ensure they achieve the required number of CPD points.
• Will there be any changes to sprayer testing?
The legal requirement to get your sprayer tested will initially be once every five years, which is the minimum interval in the directive. This will mean those who have not had their sprayer tested must start doing so, but won’t have to until 2016. DEFRA has taken up the exemption for knapsacks, which will not require testing. Voluntary annual testing of sprayers will still be encouraged.
Again, DEFRA hasn’t specified, but we believe the current NSTS programme meets the requirements of what it suggests. So those currently testing annually will notice little difference.
• What other practical measures will farmers need to take?
There will be additional legal measures needed to meet the Water Framework Directive (WFD). DEFRA favours voluntary approaches to meet these targets.
There is a requirement in the directive to promote Integrated Pest Management (IPM), so that users switch to practices and products with the lowest risk. DEFRA notes that existing assurance schemes and levy-board campaigns support this, ensuring a good overall awareness among farmers. If any further measures are needed to demonstrate this, we’d favour adapting Crop Protection Management Plans to show how IPM measures are being adopted.
You will also need to have a professional qualification to buy pesticides. The aim is to limit the use of agricultural pesticides to legitimate users. But we’re keen to ensure this doesn’t cause practical problems where the purchaser is not the certificate holder. We feel an annual check that the farm has a suitably qualified spray operator would be sufficient.
• Who will be most affected by any new legislation?
It’s clear from DEFRA’s response that the existing measures, such as the VI measures (albeit with a few small amendments), will cover the requirements of the directive. Most large arable users will have on-farm practices that already comply. It will have the greatest impact on those who use pesticides once or twice a year, especially livestock farmers. They will have to decide whether to adopt the required measures or look at alternatives, such as using a contractor.
This isn’t the case across Europe – relative to other member states, the UK is in a strong position, especially in relation to issues such as sprayer testing and training. This is good news for UK growers as it ensures a more level playing field across Europe, and brings all of the EU up to the standards of the best member states, which would include the UK. However, it is worth noting that some countries are also setting targets to reduce the use of pesticides, which is something the NFU is strongly against.
• Are there any areas that still need to be resolved?
We’re still waiting for the detail, but we don’t expect many surprises.
There is still a vocal minority, notably pesticide campaigner Georgina Downs, pushing hard for statutory advance notification of spraying. She has taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights, so this may not be the last we will hear on the issue.
• What’s the next step?
Further details will be developed over the next few months and a further official consultation will take place over the summer ahead of the required start date for specific legislation – November 2011.
View of the crop protection industry
Dominic Dyer, Crop Protection Association –
We’re pleased with the outcome, in so far as it recognises that VI measures are addressing the issues raised in the directive. The government has no stomach for extra regulation where voluntary measures are appearing to work, so there should be no surprises.
There is more we can do through the VI, particularly on water quality. Good work has already been done through Catchment Sensitive Farming working with the Environment Agency. We’re keen to ensure the lessons learned are rolled out to all farmers so that we meet the Water Framework Directive targets – the last thing we want is pesticide exclusion zones.
We don’t believe regulation or compulsory advance notification of spraying are needed and are pleased the government recognises this. We’d like to see more farmers take up the Good Neighbour Initiative and promote the good practice operators follow – there is a great story to tell.
We’re concerned that a proportionate approach is taken to any changes to pesticide approvals. Although the our government may be supportive, it is important to get the position right and take it to other member states – we don’t want to lose more of our valuable crop protection tools.
Generally, prospects look good and public support for modern farming methods is building. There has been huge progress on pesticide residues with levels reducing compared to 20 years ago. Most people view the anti-pesticide lobby with cynicism and recognise that crop protection is a vital part of delivering a sustainable agriculture.
View from consultees
There were 126 submissions from members of the public, as well as many others put forward by the NFU, other trade associations, public bodies and farmers. In its consultation summary DEFRA gathered together the submissions, but its response did not necessarily reflect the weight of opinion given.
Members of the public want greater statutory controls on spraying operations, according to the views submitted. The part of the consultation that addressed Article 31 of the PPP regulation, dealing with advanced notification of neighbours who could be exposed to spray drift, received the greatest attention.
Operators should give 48 hours’ notice, it was suggested, and spraying should be prohibited in residential areas. Farmers should agree a protocol and penalties for non-compliance should be substantial. Signs indicating spraying had taken place should be mandatory, respondents felt. Some even suggested these should indicate what ill-health symptoms to look out for.
But DEFRA’s response was that it wouldn’t be appropriate to force operators to provide advance notice of planned spray operations, although it encourages farmers to develop good relationships with their neighbours. “Ministers would wish to see substantive evidence, including scientific evidence, that a statutory scheme would achieve significant results over and above voluntary measures,” a DEFRA spokesperson told Crops.
Want to know more?
• The Good Neighbour Initiative – www.nfu.org.uk
• Voluntary Initiative – www.voluntaryinitiative.org.uk
• NRoSO – www.nptc.org.uk
• NSTS – www.nsts.org.uk
• DEFRA consultation – www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/pesticides/index.htm