Opinion: In-cab voyeur has glyphosate worries

Situated, as we are, on the outskirts of Clacton-on-Sea (soon to be renamed “Ukip central”), we farm a number of fields that adjoin suburban gardens.

Guy Smith

Guy Smith

I often, therefore, find myself sitting high up in tractor cabs gawping over garden fences. I like to think I get on fairly well with most of my neighbours and, if they are going out and about their garden chores, I usually give a friendly wave and they wave back. At least, I think they are waving.

What I witness from my lofty perch reminds me how life is very different on the other side of the fence.

As a farmer, along with all the records, training days and certificates, I sometimes feel I wear enough safety equipment to get within spitting distance of the plutonium core of a nuclear reactor without suffering any adverse side-effects.

In contrast, my domestic gardening neighbours seem to go about the most hazardous of tasks with an almost naked abandon, unhindered by any attempt to minimise any of the dangers they face.

Pensioners, unbalanced by too much lunchtime sherry, can be seen on top of unsteady step-ladders wielding electric chainsaws as they prune their leylandii.

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Frenzied 10-year-olds, high on too much Fanta, are put in charge of ride-on lawn mowers as they speed past toddlers wielding garden shears.

And sun-bronzed gardeners splash around weed killers from watering cans while wearing little more than factor 10 sunscreen.

You suspect that if we farmers went about our tasks with such a cavalier attitude we would end up in jaill or banned from farming for life. But we are a professional bunch and it is good we don’t display such disregard for safety.

All this brings me to the subject of garden chemicals. I read in the papers that in France they are about to place mild restrictions on the purchase of products containing glyphosate for use in domestic gardens.

This all seems part of a worrying trend to want to significantly restrict, if not ban outright, the use of glyphosate.

There doesn’t seem a week go by when some campaign group haven’t come up with a smear-story about it causing ill health or sterilising land or some other such scaremongering. These stories are often fuelled by the anti-GM campaign. The motives are obvious. Get glyphosate banned and thereby you block the chance of growing Round-Up Ready crops.

Maybe us farmers should pay more attention to this systematic attempt to demonise glyphosate because, left unchecked, it will soon get the ear of the regulator.

Glyphosate is one of those chemicals I could ill afford to be without in my farming. It cleans my stubbles or pernicious weeds such as blackgrass and it helps me harvest crops in good order by taking out the green gunk. Without it, farming would simply become more expensive and, as we know, margins are thin enough as it is at the moment.

So maybe as an industry we need to watch this closely. Although I’m personally convinced of its safety, I can see the prudence in using the stuff judiciously and carefully to make sure no one could accuse us of being unprofessional.

We may also need to get in front of spurious scare stories. And maybe some of my Clacton neighbours should think about wearing more than a bikini when squirting it round their gardens. Especially the women. It is a sacrifice the local in-cab voyeurs are prepared to make.


Guy Smith comes from a mixed family farm on the north-east Essex coast. Situated on the coast close to Clacton-on-Sea, the business is well diversified with a golf course, shop, fishing lakes and airstrip. He is vice-president of the NFU.

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