Growers anger at higher cost of chemicals in UK
By Robert Harris
CEREAL growers are incensed to learn that widely used chemicals are still much cheaper in parts of Europe despite makers assurances that prices have been brought into line.
George Ponsonby, of farm management company Colburn Philips, Northleach, Glos, runs a buying group in the Cotswolds. He reckons he could save £5,000 on his 485ha (1200 acres) of combinable crops between now and harvest using German-sourced chemicals. Some products are available at half the UK price, he says.
"Manufacturers are obviously looking at what the market will stand. Some products are more expensive, others are cheaper, so it has nothing to do with exchange rates."
Kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole, a mix sold in the UK as Landmark, is £10/ha cheaper in Germany at the 0.7 litre/ha rate, he says. Propa-quizafop (Falcon), a blackgrass herbicide used in linseed, costs £20/litre, half the UK price. And epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph (Opus Team) is £6.50/ha cheaper.
"Unfortunately it is too late to do the required paperwork in time for flag leaf spraying," says Mr Ponsonby. "But if these differentials remain, I shall definitely import this autumn."
One client, who prefers not to be named, says earlier approaches to three merchants in France were ignored. "We have a good idea why." He has also heard crops treated with imported chemicals could be rejected. "We are becoming victims of what amounts to commercial blackmail," he says. A UK haulier has agreed to deliver the goods within 48 hours for £300 a pallet, says Mr Ponsonby. "You can get £24,000 worth of Landmark on a pallet. Haulage should not be a problem."
Dick Makepeace, the Association of Independent Agronomists spokesman on registration, believes the practice of changing product formulation, which many farmers suspect has been carried out to prevent UK use, would not stand up in court. "Makers do fiddle with the formulation, but that generally makes no difference to product activity. I think a judge would say it was restrictive practice.
"Provided growers have a PSD-approved licence to import for their own use, and they stick to branded products, I see no problem."
Opus and Landmark maker BASF maintains price differentials are due to different distributor structures. "Our prices are pan-European. It sounds like these prices are from gross distributors, who sell on to other distributors. It is a completely different system."
He refutes suggestions that makers apply pressure to distributors abroad, and says only those crops treated with illegally imported material risk rejection.
Most modern branded products are identical wherever they are sold, he adds. "There is no legal reason to stop farmers importing." But sustained activity could drive local UK distributors out of business, he warns.
Rob King, of Cyanamid, maintains Falcon is priced to compete against other UK-approved products, and to reflect a better distributor service.
Large-scale importing could mean UK-approved materials become trickier to find, since a smaller market would make justifying new products harder, he warns. *
Spraying was in full swing at Easton Lodge on Tuesday. As spray stores empty, many growers may be tempted to look further afield for supplies.