Adapting to losses in chemistry

Published 24th June 2022 | Articles

With rocketing fertiliser prices, concerns over food availability and stock shortages, many have been considering pulses as a ‘helping’ crop to overcome some of these challenges. And they’d be right to do so.

However, there is one concern that many are battling with; the subject of chemistry available to pea and bean growers.

In recent years, established plant protection products (PPPs) have found themselves under increased scrutiny which has led on several occasions to them being banned.

However, there are reasons to be cheerful – the crop science companies who invest hundreds of millions of pounds in research and development are confident that new innovations are not far away.

The challenge

Despite the rigorous testing all PPPs go through prior to being made available, many have been under threat at both EU and national levels.

The implications for farmers are considerable. Control of weeds, pests and disease becomes far more difficult and, as farmers increasingly turn to a more restricted range of PPPs, resistance build-up becomes more likely.

And a pea and bean grower’s toolbox, which is more restricted than more mainstream crop grower’s in the first place, is now even more limited.

“In the past 10 years we’ve lost quite a few products,” says Pea Consultant Keith Costello. “I know we’re working very hard to look after the environment, but we need to have food security too.

“If we’re going to lose a product, it would be better if time was allowed for an alternative to be found. But at the moment it seems to be that something is withdrawn immediately, and we’re left with nothing. But the problems they were combatting are still there.

“Growers are trying to grow these crops because everyone wants more plant protein, but they just don’t have the products in their toolbox to help them.”

Keith explains that there are no longer any seed treatments, meaning that diseases such as pythian and downy mildew pose a serious threat.

“With regards to seedlings, we’re in unchartered waters,” he says.

“I can remember the serious damage caused by seedling diseases back in the 1960s and 70s, which is why we’d developed those products, and I just hope you we don’t reverse back to that again.”

Becky Howard, Research and Development Manager at PGRO, says there have been some key losses for pea and bean growers, who had fewer products at their disposal to start with than crops taking up more surface area, such as oilseed rape and wheat.

“We did, until last year, have the option to treat seeds with a fungicide but that’s now disappeared,” she says. “The only way to plant peas and beans with a seed treatment now is if they’re treated in a European Member State and imported here, but that will only be an option until the end of 2023.”

Insecticides is another area of concern, as the present choice is very restricted.

“We’ve only really got one decent aphicide which can only be applied to a crop once, so growers have to decide whether they’re going to target viruses or later aphid colonies,” Becky says.

A product currently at risk at being restricted in the future is Bentazone. Environment Agency data shows that the herbicide active substance is the most frequently detected approved pesticide in UK groundwater and is also increasingly being found in surface water.

“To keep Bentazone, which is our only post-emergence option with peas and beans, we’ve all been working hard with regards to stewardship,” says Mark Hemmant, Central Support Technical Manager at Agrovista.

Know The Bentazone Risk is an initiative created by BASF, Nufarm and Sharda Cropchem to encourage responsible product use and provide a mapping and planning tool that tells growers if they’re farming in a high-risk area.

With post-emergence options being so limited, using Bentazone sensibly is essential as it approaches reapproval in 2025, otherwise its future is by no means guaranteed. The ongoing and cross-industry stewardship of the active is helping to achieve this.

But before you stop reading, new products being developed could offer new solutions for growers.

Finding a solution

“The current situation is worrying, but new chemistry is on the horizon,” says Iain Ford, Business Development Manager – Agricultural Solutions at BASF.

“Peas and beans play a vital role within UK agriculture and BASF is continuing to invest in legume crops, exploring new alternatives.

“It’s too early to give a lot of detail, but we have developed two new herbicides, one new fungicide and an insecticide, that we hope to bring to market in the coming years.

Iain adds that although alternatives are being developed, farmers shouldn’t forget to pay attention to prevention, cultural controls and integrated pest management (IPM).

“It’s vital that growers look closely at their rotation, making sure they’re not growing these crops less than one year in five,” he explains.

“Making sure they have good soil structure which is not compacted or waterlogged is essential, as is looking to sow in the right soil and seedbed conditions, and not forcing drilling at an inappropriate time.”

Iain believes the benefits pulses bring to rotations far outweigh the challenges of producing them.

“They bring to the table fantastic benefits, in particular their ability to fix nitrogen and provide residual nitrogen for the following crop, which is especially valuable right now considering today’s high fertiliser prices,” he says.

There are other measures growers can be taking to improve their prospects as they learn to live without these products and, within the peas and beans categories, only field beans are classified as a major crop.

“Everything else is classified as a minor crop, which means there is an alternative route for gaining approval to use products on these crops,” Becky says.

“The extension of authorisation for minor use means that we can apply for approval to use products that are approved for other crops in the UK. If we can justify its use and data is available from the chemical company for the crops it is currently used on, then that gives us an alternative route of getting useful products for these minor crops.

“We undertake these applications frequently and it gives growers more options.”

Becky stresses that there are often alternatives growers can consider including cultural methods of managing pests and looking at farm systems slightly differently.

“Insecticides is probably where we will see the biggest issues and I think that’s where a huge amount of effort needs to go into IPM and the decisions that are made on-farm before any products would be used,” she says.

If growers are struggling to make decisions about the best course of action, Becky advises contacting the PGRO which runs a free advisory service.

“If growers have any questions about products, particular diseases or any other issues, they can talk to PGRO and we will help them make their decisions.”

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