The NFU, Crop Protection Association (CPA) and Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) presented their Healthy Harvest campaign to representatives from the European Commission and European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.
Richard King, head of research at the Anderson’s centre, outlined the findings of his report, commissioned by the three organisations, which showed EU policies threaten 87 out of about 250 approved pesticides in the UK.
Of these, about 40 are considered to have a high likelihood of disappearing or being restricted within the next five to seven years, with potentially serious consequences for crop yields, including a 12 per cent drop in winter wheat yields and massive impacts on ‘minor crops’ like carrots and onions.
He warned agriculture’s contribution to the economy could drop by 36 per cent (£1.6bn), with knock-on effects for employment.
The speakers highlighted other unintended consequences of banning pesticides, including displacing EU-produced food with imports produced to lower standards and, in the case of the neonicotinoids ban, lower OSR yields and greater application of pyrethroid sprays.
NFU vice president Guy Smith said: “We are losing the crop protection products we need to combat diseases, weeds, pests in our crop.
“We are worried that if we continue to see the direction of travel we have seen in the last 10 years the ability of European farmers to produce healthy crops, which go on to produce wholesome healthy food will be depleted.”
“If regulators continue to stifle British food production through bad regulation, they are exporting our agricultural production capabilities to those parts of the world that have a less hostile attitude to food production.”
There are signs the Commission has recently adopted a more considered approach to the issue, particularly with the arrival of new EU Commission president Claude Juncker, who has identified jobs and growth as a priority, although the loss of EU chief scientist role is a concern.
The key demands for MEPs and EU regulators in the Healthy Harvest report are:
Source: Andersons centre
Nick von Westenholz, CPA chief executive, said: “Good regulation is vital if we are to protect consumers and the environment while also fostering innovation in agriculture. However, bad regulation achieves neither.”
He warned farmers were increasingly being forced to use ‘old technologies like pyrethroid sprays. He urged the Commission to move away from its current hazard-based approach to pesticide regulation, through which it often overreacts, towards an understanding of ‘how to manage risk’.
Mr Smith welcomed the Commission’s decision to undertake an impact assessment of changes to legislation that could remove a number of key products classified as ‘endocrine disruptors’, following a recent consultation. It means final decisions on the products are unlikely to be made until 2016.
“We are really pleased they are consulting. It is something they might not have done in the past,” he said.
“If it comes down to the Commission understanding how their decision impacts on the practical farmer when it comes to producing food, then hopefully there is progress.”
Mr von Westenholz said many of 40 ‘high risk’ products were threatened by endocrine disruptor legislation.
“We are saying there is a huge potential impact and is it absolutely right the Commission takes its time and makes a proper assessment of that definition.”
AIC chief executive David Caffall, also warned of serious knock-on effects for agriculture and the whole food chain’.
“If regulators do not have integrity and moral courage, the future is bleak,” he said.
NFU combinable crops chairman Mike Hambly said it was already becoming increasingly difficult for arable farmers to control problems like blackgrass and septoria due to the reduced number of products available and resistance in those that remain. The problem will only get worse if more products go, with vast ‘unintended’ consequences for farmers and wider society, he said.
A Finnish farmer has outlined how the neonicotinoid ban is threatening oilseed rape production in his country.
Finland was granted a derogation in 2014, allowing it to continue using treated seed on 43,000 hectares of spring-sown OSR out of a total of in excess of 60,000ha.
Finland plants 96 per cent of its OSR in the spring due to the weather and neonicotinoid-treated seeds were considered an essential protection against pests.
Max Schulman, a farmer from southern Finland, told the Healthy Harvest event the total acreage harvested ended up being just over the 43,000ha of treated crops as yields from the untreated seeds amounted to about 10-15 per cent nationally.
“On my farm I planted 20ha of treated seeds and 20ha of untreated seeds. The treated emerged well and gave a good crop. It took one spray,” he said.
“Of the other 20ha, 7 per cent emerged. It was no use, I did not harvest it. At the very early stage I went with pyrethroids, three, four times, to see if I could make an impact. Nothing.”
“One OSR crushing plant has closed down already and we are working to retain the acreage to maintain the other one. If yields go down further, the last plant will close and that will be the end of OSR in Finland.”
Finland has been granted a derogation again for spring 2015 OSR planting.”
The neonicotinoid ban is up for review after two years. Euros Jones, from the European Crop Protection Association, said his organisation would collect the relevant data from the big chemical companies and submit this to the Commission to try and support the case to have the ban lifted.