Written evidence submitted by Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK)(ELM0014)
1. PAN UK is the only UK charity focused on tackling the problems caused by pesticides and promoting safe and sustainable alternatives in agriculture, urban areas, homes and gardens. We apply pressure to governments, regulators, policy makers, industry and retailers to reduce the impacts of harmful pesticides to both human health and the environment.
2. This document sets out PAN UK’s written evidence to the House of Commons Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee Inquiry into ‘Environmental Land Management and the agricultural transition’. Our response highlights ways in which the transition towards Environmental Land Management can best drive the uptake of integrated pest management (IPM) and a reduction in pesticide use by farmers and other land managers. It focusses on question 4 of the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference.
Question 4: How can ELM be made an attractive business choice for farmers and land managers while effectively delivering its policy goals?
3. ELM must put in place the support required by farmers to reduce their pesticide use. Pesticides are not cheap so, if appropriate support is in place, then a reduction in their use should actually lower costs and make farm businesses more profitable. This package of support must go beyond financial support to also include access to independent advice, research and training into integrated pest management (IPM) techniques and non-chemical alternatives to pesticides, all of which will help farmers to maintain yields and therefore profitability.
4. Many farmers in England are dissatisfied with the agronomic advice they are currently able to access, much of which is tied to the pesticide industry. Agronomists often receive bonuses linked to pesticide sales, meaning that farmers aren’t able to trust that they are receiving the best advice but have no other choice. If ELM guaranteed farmers independent advice, aimed at reducing inputs and increasing their profits, this would make it a very attractive business offering. Particularly when compared to the current situation where they are essentially at the mercy of salespeople masquerading as ‘advisors’.
5. Government-run and funded advice and support to farmers on effective integrated pest management (IPM) strategies would be a valuable asset in the move towards a more sustainable UK agricultural system and an attractive proposition for farm businesses looking to reduce input costs and protect the environment. One example of such a body can be found in Denmark which has led the way in developing a dedicated IPM and pesticide reduction advice service for farmers. Danish farmers can receive heavily subsidised advice on IPM focused on farmers’ specific crop protection challenges. Farmers sign a two-year agreement to receive a total of six to twelve hours of advice (six hours for farms less than 100 hectares, and one hour per 50 hectares to a maximum of twelve hours). When special challenges arise on a particular farm, the agreement may be extended by one year. The project funded 1,400 ‘IPM advisory packages’ in 2010-2015. In total, advice was supplied to farmers cultivating approximately 15 per cent of Denmark’s arable land.
6. ELM would also be a more attractive business choice for farmers if it offered Continuing Professional Development (CPD) focussed on reducing pesticide use and adopting integrated pest management (IPM). The majority of farmers care about their land and the natural environment in which it sits but don’t necessarily have the knowledge or expertise to transition away from the way in which they have always farmed. A comprehensive training programme on pesticide reduction and integrated pest management (IPM) as part of ELM could be an incentive to take part in the scheme. Given that embedding nature-based integrated pest management (IPM) can take a number of growing seasons, it would make sense to make training a core part of any transition plan, providing farmers with the skills and knowledge they need in time for when ELM launches fully.
7. The Government’s Agricultural Transition Plan mentions innovation, research and development numerous times. However, innovation appears to be defined solely as advances in technology. Similarly, the research and development agenda appears to largely ignore nature-based solutions and again be targeted at technological innovation. While technology, such as weeding robots does have a role to play in reducing pesticide usage, it is often costly to adopt and can tie farmers into relying on agribusiness companies which can then exercise control over their business decisions. ELM should drive and disseminate research into non-chemical alternatives to farmers at no cost and with no strings attached. Access to this kind of research and development could attract farmers in large numbers to the scheme while helping them to achieve their environmental objectives.
8. Farmer-led innovation should be at the heart of ELM. It is mentioned in the Agricultural Transition Plan but with little detail. One effective way of facilitating farmer-led innovation would be the establishment of grower groups. This is a technique used by almost all of the UK’s major supermarkets. They create groups which are either crop-specific or area-specific. These groups bring farmers together to discuss common obstacles and solutions to reducing pesticide use, and share tips and ideas on integrated pest management (IPM) and agroecological practices more broadly. These groups have been shown to give farmers the confidence to make changes. By creating these groups as early as possible, it would not only help ELM to meet its policy objectives but also encourage farmers to participate in the scheme. Farming can be a lonely and tough profession and bringing farmers together to support each other can both drive positive environmental outcomes and make the scheme an attractive business proposition. Given that pesticide reduction can take a number of growing seasons, as does the adoption of nature-based integrated pest management (IPM), it would make sense to establish these farmer groups as soon as possible and make them a key part of any transition plan.