There is an intriguing possibility Brexit might just widen UK growers’ access to a wider range of agrochemicals.
Much would depend on the approach taken by the UK’s yet-to-be-appointed trade negotiators, but Dr Stuart Wale, potato expert with SAC Consulting, believes there are opportunities.
Speaking at the recent Potatoes in Practice field event at Dundee, he described the current position which saw few new plant protection products (PPPs) being registered.
Even re-registration of existing products was difficult, with the latest loss being fluazinam soil treatment for control of powdery scab.
“An obvious way to reduce the reliance on agrochemicals is to grow resistant varieties, however, supermarkets and processors still tend to give priority to eye-appeal or processing quality and are very slow to adopt enhanced resistance varieties,” said Dr Wale.
There is, however, an alternative. Dr Wale has noticed alternative markets to the EU, such as the US, are continuing to register new agrochemicals.
“To avoid the worst of all worlds and instead allow efficient UK producers to remain at the forefront in internal UK and or non-EU external markets, it may be important that trade negotiators argue for UK farmers to use agrochemicals tested and approved in other parts of the
This of course would only be possible if the UK’s Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) gave its approval.
After Brexit, the UK would no longer be bound by EU Directive 91/414 which governs the availability of PPPs across the 28 member states.
A CRD spokesman said: “Currently the UK Government is considering its response. Further details will emerge in due course. There are no immediate consequences (of Brexit) for how we work and regulate.”
In other words, it is business as usual for the foreseeable future following a trend in most other Government departments. The foot soldiers will carry on marching in the given direction until the generals tell them to about-turn. In the meantime, the generals are mostly on their summer holidays.
In the opinion of Dr Jon Knight, head of crop health and protection at AHDB, nothing is likely to change fundamentally over the next four or five years. “It will take at least two to three years to leave the EU and I am not convinced even then PPPs will be high on the agenda,” he said.
“It is likely that if farmers are doing business post-Brexit with the EU, then protocols will be very similar to the present ones. If the target markets are non-EU then it is possible, but unlikely, that farmers could use a different set of chemicals but it would require social acceptance and a change of legislation.
"But how would that be perceived by a relentlessly effective green lobby?” he asked.
Interestingly, Dr Knight considered the approach to GM cropping might be more flexible and change could come sooner. It would need approval initially from the Committee for Releases to the Environment but there has been more support for GM from the UK Government in recent years than there has been from Brussels.
Prominent Brexiteer and former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has often spoken in favour of adopting the technology in the face of what he has seen as EU intransigence.
Dr Knight, with a background in horticulture, pointed to the importance of minor use and off-label approvals. These would not need to be overlooked in any rush for legislative change.
“A lot will depend on how sensible the approach of Government is and whether it takes a balanced approach.
At AHDB we would very much welcome a risk-based approach to product approval rather than one based on hazard. Under the present approach if someone invented electricity it would never be approved because it could present a hazard. As it is, electricity presents a risk but it is acceptable because we know how to manage it," he said.
That is an approach endorsed by Andrew Bauer, deputy director of policy at NFU Scotland.
“It is early days in the discussion but NFUS will definitely be looking for an emphasis on risk rather than hazard,” he added.