PJ Phelan: We have to be smarter to deal with new pesticide regulations

Consumers view pesticides as something that harms the quality of food; On the contrary, farmers see them as insurance and essential for the crops they grow.

In August the European Commission published a proposal to strengthen the rules governing the use of plant protection products.

Implementation of those proposals would impact all farmers who use pesticides, further reducing the range of products available.

In recent years, the demands of the farmers have been refocused. Not only do we have to produce safe, sustainable, affordable food, we also need to be “climate responsible” to protect biodiversity.

The objectives of the proposed regulation are:

reducing the use of chemical pesticides through better use of integrated pest management (IPM) and the introduction of less hazardous, non-chemical controls;

increased use of surveillance;

increased enforcement;

Increasing the use of precision farming techniques.

It will be mandatory to keep a record of the use of pesticides.

Farmers will have to take recorded advice from independent consultants at least once in a year.

Organic plant protection products will be promoted.

The focus will be on training to improve health and safety in the fields.

Farmers should be encouraged to move towards low cost farming methods and organic farming.

The reduction in the use of chemical pesticides is expected to reduce the health and safety risks for farmers.

An evaluation of the current Continuous Use Directive found it to be only moderately effective.

The main weaknesses identified were the implementation and enforcement of the IPM and the effectiveness of the National Action Plans (NAPs) of individual Member States.

It is accepted that by 2030, according to the Farm to Fork strategy, a 50 percent reduction in pesticide use will result in an increase in production costs:

Stricter and more detailed reporting requirements

Reduced yield due to less pesticide use

Additional cost for farmers who do not usually hire consultants.

It is proposed that those costs will be met with additional CAP payments.

Member States will be required to produce NAPs with timelines and indicators to reduce negative impacts from pesticide use combined with annual reporting.

Farmers can use chemicals only after all other non-chemical methods are exhausted.

Most of the requirements in the proposal are already being implemented in this country but will increase the level of record keeping and enforcement.

This will be used as a major implementation to achieve the target of 50 percent reduction in pesticide use.

Ireland is where most pesticide developers come to explicitly test new products, which underscores how a reduction in pesticide use will affect us more than other European countries.

The emphasis on the use of biological agents to reduce reliance on chemicals sounds good, but we have little independent research to base such recommendations on.

The increasing use of precision application equipment will help but at a very high cost for the small to average operator.

The disease resistance of many of our varieties will need to be significantly improved before we can cut down on pesticide use.

Improved crop nutrition also plays a role; Trace element soil results are the results of the Department’s experimental soil testing program which will give a substantial amount of new data.

Agricultural farming will proceed without our current amount of pesticides, but we all have to be smart in our work.

PJ Phelan is a tillage consultant based in Tipperary; He is a member of ACA and ITCA