Surprise findings from slug pellet use survey

Growers’ attitudes to slug pellets need to change radically if a key active ingredient, metaldehyde, is not to be banned.

That’s the reaction of one supplier given the results of a survey commissioned by the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group.

More than half (54%) the growers quizzed last month still think that what they do when applying pellets will not make any difference to product withdrawal decisions.

“That’s very surprising,” says David Cameron of De Sangosse. “Users can make more difference that anyone else.”

That slug pellets are important is not in doubt, more than 80% of respondents suggesting that their businesses would be unsustainable without them.

More than 90% agreed that pellets were as important as other pesticides, and metaldehyde was largely their preferred molluscicide.

Nearly 80% reckoned crop productivity would suffer without it.

And yet when it came to using pellets the responses indicated that few viewed them as pesticides. Most pellets (80%) were applied by quad bike, two to three treatments being the norm where slug control was seen as difficult.

Even so only just over a quarter of users wore disposable overalls which are considered the best option for preventing metaldehyde finding its way into water, according to Dr Cameron.

More than half wore normal clothes or overalls which when washed risked the chemical contaminating water, he explained.

The other surprising finding was that more than 40% still felt they needed to treat field margins and headlands because that was where slugs came from.

“That’s a very big misconception,” says Dr Cameron.

Independent slug specialist David Glen of Styloma Research & Consulting confirms that.

“As far as arable crops like wheat and oilseed rape are concerned the key species is the grey field slug, and that lays its eggs in the main part of fields. The problem tends to be least on headlands because the soil is generally more consolidated there,” says Prof Glen.

Field margins are often close to watercourses, points out Dr Cameron. “So the potential for run-off or even for pellets to be applied directly to water is very high.”

That’s why one of the MSG’s proposals in its new Get Pelletwise campaign is a minimum 5m no-spread buffer zone beside watercourses and even dry ditches.

With most applicators spreading to 12m that effectively means keeping any pellets at least 17m away from water, he explains.

Free kits to help users deal with spillages more safely will soon be available, he notes.

“The UK annual spend on metaldehyde is about £16m. Given the potential losses the return on that investment is huge,” says Dr Cameron.

MSG slug pellet survey

  • Slug control vital to business sustainability
  • Pellets as important as other pesticides
  • Metaldehyde favoured active
  • Crop productivity would suffer without it
  • Most applications via quad bike
  • Few wear disposable overalls
  • Margin treatment falsely considered necessary
  • Clothes washing potential source of contamination

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