With so many plant protection products having been withdrawn in recent years, growers face many challenges as the UK transitions out of the EU. But the NFU Sugar, NFU crops and NFU horticulture chairmen – Michael Sly, Tom Bradshaw and Ali Capper – projected hope behind a set of underlying principles laid out by NFU senior regulatory affairs adviser Chris Hartfield.
He called for Integrated Pest Management to be at the core of any future evidence-based plan, and asked the government to demonstrate a commitment for the same focus on science. With Defra’s senior spokesperson Holly Yates adding the weight of her voice to the conversations, the session’s panellists from the NFU were keen to continue discussions after NFU Conference to develop policy that will help combat the issues impacting specialist crops, oilseed rape and sugar beet.
Dr Hartfield presented the NFU's strategy on plant health, explaining that it was the result of many discussions across the industry, membership and government. "We have a 25-year environmental plan that puts IPM at the heart of what the strategy calls a holistic approach and a minimum use of pesticides. Our vision is to develop a sustainable plant health solution that enables farmers and growers to produce the crops to meet the needs of consumers, the environment and also farming businesses."
Pictured above: NFU Sugar chairman Michael Sly
Tom Bradshaw was keen to push for better measuring of environmental impacts to show how much farmers are already doing on farm: "We all believe that the current plant health products that we have to use on farm are much safer than they have ever been, but at the moment we are not able to tell that story with the metrics we currently have. We have to be transparent about the how, the when and the why we are using plant health products."
Holly Yates agreed there was a real issue around trust, visibility and accountability. "This call for better data and better metrics, is for me, absolutely key," she said. "I need to ask how do I make sure this industry has the opportunity to demonstrate what it's already doing, as well as thinking about where we might want to go next."
There are opportunities for farmers to affect change, especially as the Agriculture Bill continues its path through Parliament. The NFU also held drop-in sessions regarding the Environment Bill as recently as one day before NFU Conference, to show how British farming’s use of insecticides is done in an environmentally-friendly way in order to produce food to the highest standards possible.
The session also included a lively question and answer session. To increase the availability of solutions, the NFU gained support from the government for farmers to use new technologies and techniques, which AHDB will be advising on, regarding prevision technology and crop nutrition.
In case you missed it, here are some easy ways to catch up with the highlights from both days at the ICC, Birmingham: