Under CAP greening rules, nitrogen fixing crops will count towards Ecological Focus Areas. However, the European Commission is ‘fully committed’ to prohibiting pesticide use in EFAs, according to the Crop Protection Association.
CPA chief executive Nick von Westenholz said this was ‘typical of the sort of inflexible and overly prescriptive view of pesticide use that is hampering European farmers’ and urged Defra to recognise the ‘positive role pesticides can play in sustainable production’ as it implements the reforms.
“We urge the UK Government to oppose any move by the Commission to prohibit pesticide use in EFAs on a Europe wide basis,” he said.
Defra must take a flexible and pragmatic approach in the way it implements CAP in England, recognising the positive role pesticides can play in sustainable production, while acknowledging the excellent work on responsible pesticide use being undertaken voluntarily by the industry, through schemes such as the Voluntary Initiative.
Mr von Westenholz said it was ‘disappointing’ that these reports come at the same time as the Commission’s decision to suspend the use of neonicotinoid insecticides, ‘without a political mandate and contrary to the weight of scientific evidence’, came into effect on December 1.
He said the EU has yet to undertake an impact assessment on what the removal of these three neonicotinoids will mean, meaning ‘we still don’t know what the impact will be on farmers, on wildlife, or on consumers and the price of food on shop shelves’.
“The EU must conduct such an impact assessment as a matter of urgency,” he said. “Blunt approaches aimed at simply reducing or prohibiting pesticide use, instead of focusing on the more important goal of managing risk alongside producing food, fail to appreciate the vital role pesticides play in modern, sustainable farming.
“Some of the best examples of conservation farming in the UK take a conventional approach that includes pesticides - both in growing crops and in managing land for biodiversity and the environment. For example, herbicides can play an important part in managing weeds when cultivating headlands for pollen-rich flowers in which pollinators, such as bees, thrive. It is clear that pesticides are part of the solution and not the problem with regard to sustainable production.
NFU president Peter Kendall, who said the Commission also wanted to ban fertilisers in EFAs, and said the NFU was still pushing at EU level to try and prevent these sorts of restriction being attached to greening conditions. He said the Commission was wanted to ban chemcials in EFAs to ensure farmers had to more to comply with CAP greening.
In its response to Defra’s consultation on CAP reform implementation in England, the NFU said the flexibility to count nitrogen fixing crops as part of EFAs should not be ‘eroded by over-zealous’ conditions introduced by Defra.
Mr Kendall has also met Brussels officials to discuss possible alternatives to the potentially burdensome requirement for most arable farmers to grow at least three crops, under CAP greening plans. He said there appeared to be little prospect of avoiding the requirement with the potential alternatives on offer even more burdensome and bureaucratic, including a requirement to grow four different crops on the same land over four consecutive years.
Mr Kendall said the CAP reform was in danger of a return to the past when Brussels dictated what farmers did. “The most ridiculous thing is that will have to reintroduce crop codes. How else are they going to monitor the three-crop rule?” he said.