This page looks at a range of issues concerning the potential impacts for farmers and growers of COVID-19 on plant protection products (PPPs) and plant health.
The information will be updated as the situation changes and new issues or concerns are identified. The information comes from discussions with industry contacts to assess how processes within the crop protection and plant health area could be disrupted over coming weeks and months.
We are working to get an understanding of impacts on:
- Supply and availability of PPPs
- Supply and availability of biological controls/beneficials (including bees for pollination)
- Availability of agronomy services
- Availability of sprayer operators
- Training and certification of sprayer operators
- The active ingredient approval/PPP authorisation process
- The emergency authorisation process
- Implementation of plant health regulations, particularly plant passporting requirements
- Availability of pest controllers
This isn’t an exhaustive list. If there are other potential impacts we are missing, please let us know. The detail below sets out our current understanding and what the NFU has been doing.
Supply and availability of PPPs
NFU has contacted the crop protection and agronomy sector to assess potential COVID-19 disruption. Early indications are that Ag Chem suppliers have sufficient stocks in UK warehouses for spring 2020, a situation helped by EU exit preparedness and lower demand due to wet weather. So availability and supply of PPPs appears to be good for the short to medium-term. There has been a surge in demand for product; this is no doubt partly weather related, but it also looks like it is due to individuals and groups ordering more stock than they would normally. This means delivery times are longer than normal (for example 2-3 days instead of 24-hours). Over coming months this other-than-normal demand could in itself influence availability, despite normal levels of product being available in the supply chain. So we would ask members to purchase products ‘normally’ to avoid a toilet roll scenario with PPPs.
Availability of delivery drivers and warehouse staff, as people self-isolate, will be an ongoing concern in terms of supply.
Through its membership of Copa-Cogeca, the NFU has been raising at the EU level the importance of continued access to key inputs, including PPPs. As restrictions affect the movement of freight into the UK, it will be critical that PPPs are given priority to move in a timely way across the border from Europe.
In the longer term, it is recognised many PPP constituents are manufactured in China. Depending on China’s recovery from coronavirus, it is possible PPP production could see some long-term effects, but this is difficult to predict.
Regarding pest controls for bee farmers, e.g. Varroa control, our understanding is that there are no issues with current availability.
Supply and availability of biological controls/beneficials (including bees for pollination)
Our current understanding is supplies of biological controls and beneficial insects and mites, including bees for pollination, are good and the situation is similar to that with PPPs. There are major differences though in that 1) many beneficials and bumblebees are produced outside the UK, and 2) beneficial insects and mites are live animals with a short shelf life. Growers’ pest control strategies rely on regular introductions of beneficials, and the logistics to supply this depends on rapid transit across borders. So supply is dependent on borders being kept open, and on logistics running effectively. Staff shortages will interrupt logistics and lead to some shortages and delays.
Internationally, we understand the International Biocontrol Manufacturers Association (IBMA) is calling for beneficial arthropods, essential for pest control and pollination, to be allowed to use the same rapid transport corridors as fresh fruit and vegetables, and the NFU would support this.
Availability of agronomy services
Most of agronomist’s day to day work can be carried out in isolation, with the use of IT to relay information to farmers and growers. So provided they stay well, agronomists should be able to continue working. The NFU is supporting calls for agronomists to be recognised as key workers.
As with all services dependent on people, illness or self-isolation could result in shortages of agronomists. The industry is looking at potential solutions to make more people available to undertake agronomy, and at how to manage Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements for BASIS Professional Register members. CPD points are usually collected at training events, now cancelled due to the coronavirus situation. Some online training is available. The NFU will support proposed solutions to the potential challenges we face around agronomy.
Availability of sprayer operators
Reduced availability of spray operators, as a result of self-isolation or illness, is an issue we have already identified and started to raise with Defra, CRD and agronomists in the UK, and with Copa-Cogeca to raise with the European Commission. The critical step in effective pest management is having the people available to apply controls at the critical time. If this window is missed, we could see very significant pest or disease damage to food production. The NFU is going to work with regulators and the industry to assess what temporary solutions may be possible to ease pressure in this area, while ensuring operator, food and environmental safety.
We would encourage members to start thinking about contingency planning regarding availability of sprayer operators. Think about your options; discuss them with your neighbours.
We have also been made aware there may be a shortage of fogging equipment - currently in high demand for disinfectants to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This equipment is used in sectors like potatoes, to apply sprout suppressants in stores. NFU is working with sector stakeholders on this issue.
Training and certification of sprayer operators
The impact of COVID-19 on the on-going training (CPD points) and certification of sprayer operators has been raised as particular concern by NFU members. The NFU has been in regular contact with industry partners to assess the potential short, medium and long-term situation. The indications are that in the short term, the vast majority of operators are up to date in their professional registration with bodies like NRoSO, but for those who have concerns, you are encouraged to contact them directly at www.nroso.org.uk.
However, future training is a concern because colleges are now closed and those who wish to gain new or additional certification are unable to do so at present. The NFU is discussing options with City & Guilds.
Active ingredient approval/PPP authorisation process
Our understanding is the UK regulator’s authorisation process systems are set up to enable home working, so provided staff stay well, business should continue as normal.
Within the EU, forthcoming standing committees dealing with PPPs have been cancelled. DG SANTE is considering how it will manage voting decisions, but it is possible there will be delays in EU regulatory decision making around PPPs during the transition period.
Emergency authorisation process
Emergency authorisations (EAs) are an area of concern, given the emergency nature of the pest or disease threat for which they are secured and the time constraints around that. NFU has raised members’ concerns with Defra about the impact COVID-19 could have on the application of PPPs under EAs, given these approvals are only for 120 days or less.
Implementation of plant health regulations, particularly plant passporting requirements
Following NFU discussions, Defra have confirmed they will continue to take a pragmatic approach towards enforcement of the Plant Health Regulation. If businesses demonstrate they are taking the steps to be compliant (e.g. progressing registration as far as possible online) in order to operate distance sales (e.g. internet sales), then APHA will aim to support them in reaching full compliance, rather than penalise non-compliance.
Availability of pest controllers
The key issue currently is that pest controllers are not yet recognised as key workers. While availability and supply of rodenticide products appear to be currently good, a lockdown on pest controllers would have significant impacts and the NFU is also investigating this issue.
Assurance and other issues
A number of issues above are linked to compliance with assurance standards, so the NFU will be also discussing these with the assurance schemes, like Red Tractor.
NFU is also aware many people in the crop protection sector work on a self-employed basis, which creates a future risk to provision of services if, as a result of coronavirus restrictions, people re-deploy into other sectors or businesses close. NFU will discuss the issue of support for self-employed workers.