UK FARMERS have raised their spraying game faster than expected, according to independent findings announced at Cereals 2005.
Visits to over 400 farms by a DEFRA agency, the Central Science Laboratory, found improvements had exceeded Voluntary Initiative targets.
“It reinforces the message that we are well up to the targets and in many cases beyond them,” said Barry Dent, chairman of the VI steering group.
He was particularly pleased to see that improved training meant that the area treated with pesticides by operators with so-called grandfather rights had dropped from 22% to 9%.
“Things have changed dramatically for the better,” said the NFU’s Neil Kift.
Spraying on more than 80% of the country’s arable area was done by operators on the National Register of Sprayer Operators, the CSL survey found. And 43% of the area was treated using machines officially checked under the National Sprayer Testing Scheme.
And almost half the farms visited had completed environmental audits by way of Crop Protection Management Plans.
The March 2005 target for CPMP coverage was 900,000ha (2.2m acres), according to Mr Kift. “We have recorded returns, including those for LEAF farms, of 1.365m ha. That’s about 34% of the total arable area. So we really have bust the target.”
Contract spraying was becoming more important, the survey showed. Having increased by 50%, it now accounted for 20% of the arable area.
Mr Kift suggested that the cost of updating to comply with the VI and the greater post-CAP reform cropping flexibility that switching to a contractor offered were key reasons.
But there was still scope to improve, the CSL’s report said. Filling from watercourses or too close to them, failing to fit check valves on mains supplies, and ignoring LERAPs were among the poor practices recorded.
It also highlighted confusion over best filling practice, which showed the need to promote the recently launched EA-backed leaflet on pesticides handling areas, commented the CPA’s Patrick Goldsworthy.