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United approach on water and crop protection

Inviting closer collaboration with farmers, the water companies used the Cereals 2014 event to set out a need for greater ‘high risk’ catchment targeting, in order to protect water supplies.

Hosting a stand for the first time at the event, Water UK, the policy organisation for the water industry, was supported by the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group and focussed on the issues surrounding water and the use of crop protection products.

“We are keen to work alongside the agricultural sector to reduce the risk of water supplies breaching standards set as part of drinking water quality regulations,” explained Dr Jodie Whitehead, Senior Catchment Management Planner at Severn Trent Water.

The focus of activity within specific, higher risk water catchments is part of companies’ remit to reduce expensive and carbon-intensive water treatment processes. It relates to a range of pesticides that are commonly detected in watercourses.

Dr Whitehead added: “We are working far more closely with farmers and landowners in undertaking catchment management work, and engaging with them about the issues at stake.

“We have evidence that such activity can significantly cut concentrations of pesticides reaching watercourses at source.”

Jodie cited metaldehyde detections in water during the two biggest slug years of recent times, 2008 and 2012, where the comparative levels were reduced by 50% in one ‘at risk’ area actively involved in a catchment management programme.

The Metaldehyde Stewardship Group’s Simon McMunn explained that due to the number of surface water catchments deemed ‘at risk’, metaldehyde is the number one pesticide challenge for water companies.

“The stewardship messages are as relevant as ever.  We will soon only have two slug pellet active ingredients available to farmers, so the retention of metaldehyde is critical,” he said.

With selected pilot initiatives taking place this year, farmers in the defined areas are being asked to refrain – voluntarily – from applying metaldehyde to identified ‘high risk’ fields.

Commenting on the pilots, the NFU’s plant health adviser Don Pendergrast said that the constraints may not be ideal for those confronted by the practicalities. “But a targeted approach appears to offer the most realistic way of alleviating the nationwide problem of metaldehyde being found in raw surface water, with the aim of preserving this active for the longer term. We look forward to the result of the pilots.”

He added that with blanket ban approaches having been taken before, the industry is keen to avoid this scenario. “Without metaldehyde, growers’ productivity and production potential would certainly be impacted, and in areas where high slug pressure is common, this impact could be severe, and would have the potential for knock-on implications related to CAP greening measures.

“There is also a huge amount of industry-wide work that has gone into securing a future for metaldehyde since the issue first came to light in 2008. We don’t want to see all that good work and commitment to best practice going to waste.”

Water UK at Cereals

-              Stand C -439-4 Environment & Research aisle

-              Slug Trail to earn 1 BASIS point & 2 NRoSO points

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