The current European hazard-based regulatory system for pesticides, overlaid by political pressure, threatens the use of key active ingredients such as glyphosate, warns Hutchinsons’ head of technology and innovation Stuart Hill. While this can also drive innovation in finding alternative solutions, albeit often at a higher production cost, a strong producer lobby is needed to fight for the retention of existing active ingredients.

“Available chemistry has fallen by around two thirds since the review of plant protection product regulations began back in 1991, under EC Directive 91/414 and its replacement Regulation 1107/2009,” he says.  Over 100 active ingredients are up for re-authorisation in the next two years, including glyphosate, diquat, the endocrine disruptors including key azole chemistry, metaldehyde and pendimethalin.

Manufacturer rationalisation since the late 1990s has seen diversified investment into fields such as plant genetic and breeding, nutritional products, biological controls and, more recently, precision farming and data.  At the same time, farm output has been a challenge, with a crop yield plateau, fixed cost increases, resistance in all areas of chemistry and a loss of soil organic matter and associated benefits.

 “During this period, it has felt quiet on the new active ingredient front. However, investment in conventional chemistry by many R & Ds has increased and we have been experiencing development time lag. We are now, arguably, about to see the most significant period of active ingredient development in 3 decades,” Mr Hill continues.

But to loss of actives puts pressure on the remaining products – “the vegetable, fruit, herb and pulse sectors especially are struggling with very few options and resistance management becomes highly restrictive. Biological control is successful in protected crops, and to an extent in fruit, but has yet to be effective on broad acre crops.”

The loss of glyphosate would be particularly acute, since it is a key tool in less aggressive soil management, allowing rotation change, reduced tillage and direct drilling, options that have transformed blackgrass control and, over time, will benefit soil health, stresses Mr Hill.

“Diquat is also under regulatory review pressure. If both of these are lost, then there are no options and the positive path we have started will be lost with a return to a more mechanised approach putting more pressure on our soils and environment.”

Farmers and their advisers must lobby their political representatives if these tools are to continue to help maintain positive, long term sustainable farming, he states. Hutchinsons is helping here by preparing supporting information and a draft template letter to MPs/MEPs, for grower customers to use as the basis of an individual approach that reflects the needs of their own farming business.

“We are asking growers to write to their MP and local MEPs to request support in the re-registration of glyphosate – a campaign highlighting the benefits of glyphosate to the farming industry is needed,” he concludes.