Arable farmers need to talk proudly about what they do and how they are minimising the use of plant protection products (PPPs) while seeking ways to respond to a future where their availability is likely to be more limited either because of legislation or a reduction in efficacy.
That was the message from Tom Bradshaw, recently elected chairman of the NFU Crops Board, as he addressed an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Summit convened by the union. He said: “When I look at the RL the first thing I look at is untreated yield and the next, OWBM resistance to minimise the PPPs I use, yet we fail to talk about the basics. We need to communicate to the wider community how we’re responsibly using PPPs.
“Let’s be smart and talk proudly about what we do and the reasons why – we could talk about products as crop medicines and agronomists as crop doctors.”
Lincolnshire-based agronomist and AICC chairman Sean Sparling said everything he decides to do or not do regarding crop health is governed by IPM principles. “I adhere to thresholds. I am angry at people routinely applying insecticides.
“I haven’t sprayed for pollen beetle for over 15 years. I’ve not had a problem with pod midge for 10 years. If I decide not to spray it is my decision and I stand by the consequences. As agronomists we need to get tougher and stand by our convictions.”
Learning about beneficial insects will become increasingly important in the future, predicted Mr Sparling. “We all know how to identify pests and diseases. It’s beneficials we need to know how to identify.
“PPPs are what we use when beneficials are struggling to compete with the problem at hand. It’s important to show how conscientious we are at using them; we shouldn’t be ashamed to use these products.”
AHDB head of crop health and protection Dr Jon Knight said their is a ‘vast amount people need to understand’ to apply IPM successfully and that ‘it won’t get any easier’. Pointing to pest thresholds he said: “The economics has probably changed since thresholds were developed. Is it too simple now to have a threshold of, say, four aphids an ear’ – should it take into account the cost of production?
“We need to have a plan for the industry as a whole, using more IPM or more elements of it. It can’t be imposed overnight and needs time for people to have the technology to do it.
“Technologies such as gene editing are important and we need to be able to explore these.”
Delegates attending the NFU summit sought to pinpoint knowledge gaps concerning IPM.
Dr Dave Chandler, a researcher at Warwick University, said: “The primary reason for reducing pesticide inputs should be to lower the risk of resistance developing. We need to treat pesticides as a valuable resource.
“There are now less than 300 approved in the UK. Farmers will need to radically change what they do with very few pesticides available, resistance increasing and a lack of alternatives.
“The Government is keen to ban pesticides but there is very little activity to put alternatives in place. Defra has done very little IPM research. AHDB is trying to fill the gap but have a much more limited budget than Defra.”
AHDB’s Dr Knight said: “AHDB would love to do more. If the Government wants us to move in this direction it is an opportunity for them to stand up and show us the way.”
One delegate said there is a limited understanding of how IPM elements interact and a poor understanding of how varietal resistance impacts on the effectiveness of natural enemies and biopesticides.
Regarding weeds, another delegate said the biggest challenge was uptake of existing knowledge not creating new knowledge.