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Talking policy with Tom Bradshaw: When policy decisions make us uncompetitive

Many parts of the country seem to be having the onslaught from cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) that the epicentre around Cambridge first experienced four seasons ago. 

We have stopped growing OSR due to the inherent risk that is now associated with it. It has become the sheep of the arable sector which you seem to do very well to keep alive.

 

The problem with CSFB is that it is so unpredictable. There was one point at the end of August where I was thinking I had made the wrong decision and I should have planted some OSR, however, only a few days later the onslaught had started. Migration seems to be at a slightly different time each year, so it is difficult to tailor the drilling date. One thing that does seem clear is that the early August drillings seem to have escaped the worst of the damage, however, agronomically this isn’t really the optimum time to plant OSR with potential compromises on yield. We are yet to see what the larvae numbers will be like in the plants through the autumn and spring.


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Inconclusive science

Decisions have been made, off the back of inconclusive science on the impact of neonicotinoids on bees, which are seen as fully justified by those calling for a precautionary approach, but awful by those needing effective crop protection tools. The CEH field study that was deemed conclusive seemed pretty inconclusive to me, but it became the final piece of evidence that put the nail in the coffin for neonics. Once this became politicised and after the EFSA review it was then enough for them not only to be banned on flowering crops but also non-flowering crops such as wheat and barley. It is, however, interesting that we know at least two EU countries – Romania and Poland - have given derogations.

 

To me this debate needs to move forward. It is no longer about fighting for access to a product which has become politically toxic, but it is about highlighting the impact loss of particular crop protection tools are having on production. Not only the impact on production but also the complete hypocrisy when as a country we used to export OSR, but we are now reliant on imports from countries such as Australia and Canada, where these tools banned by the EU are widely used.

 

Our Secretary of State needs to be challenged about how his vision of a ‘green Brexit’ delivers food in the UK. We cannot have standards that simply stop at the borders of our great island, while we merrily import cheaper food produced in less rigorous ways. Controls on production in the UK should be mirrored in the requirements for imports. We already feel that the playing field is fairly uneven but if decisions like this continue to be made then it will be getting closer and closer to vertical.

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