Timing is everything in agriculture. The old adage the difference between a good and bad farmer was a week is now narrowing to be measured in days.
During June discussions across the country were focused on the EU referendum. With passions running high during the campaign it is likely some considerable time will be required to heal the differences exposed. With emotions high, the timing of the re-registration of glyphosate, and the positions taken by some member states in the voting process, only inflamed the European debate for many farmers.
At stake, access by European farmers to the most widely-used herbicide in the world, and one which most UK growers consider essential to their farming system. Glyphosate has provided the effective solution to perennial weed control for many, consigning the scourge of couch grass to the history books and which, following the demise of Gramoxone (paraquat), has become the foundation of farmers innovating to develop stale seedbed techniques, min- and no-till systems. Little wonder growers became alarmed at the political shenanigans which surrounded its re-registration.
The approval from the EU’s own scientific advisory body, EFSA, which should have seen a standard 15-year approval was ignored by some member states, notably France, Germany and Italy. A last minute compromise means registration will be limited to 18 months until another EU study confirming its safety can be published.
Worryingly, this whole charade and politicising of the re-registration process has given desperately needed oxygen to NGOs and campaigners. With the future of diquat (Reglone) also in the balance, our diminishing armoury of actives is under severe threat.
Approval for 67 products, relevant to the UK, under 1107/2009 will expire before the 2017 wheat harvest gets into full swing with another 51 products out of time by the 2018 wheat harvest. Some of the most widely used products in crop production systems fall in this two-year window, including: pendimethalin, flufenacet, propyzamide, iodosulfuron, cypermethrin, chlorothalonil and prothioconazole.
With so much at stake the industry must work together to prepare our case. With NGOs exerting emotional pressure on politicians it is vital we have sound, science-based data, to support applications and cultivate an understanding in both politicians and public that such important decisions must be science-based.
For that to happen and for emotion to be managed we will have to develop an understanding between hazard and risk. Green MEPs made much of the publicity stunt which found glyphosate residues in their urine prior to the vote on glyphosate in the European Parliament.
With analytical equipment ever more sensitive, the mere presence of a product is not, and never has been, a problem; the real issue is the amount or dose.
Our challenge is to create an understanding of this and the relative levels of risk. It could be a major factor in ensuring the future re-registration of key products. Failure might mean Europe becomes organic by default, with the consequent exportation of much of our agricultural production.
In an attempt to pre-empt the situation and to be ready to defend other active substances as their registration falls due, the NFU has compiled a chart from the registration database. Actives for EU Reauthorization 2016 to mid-2018 is available to view on www.fginsight.com