Pesticides: Prevention or Poison?

There is nothing more that we can do now. The rape and winter wheat crops are starting to ripen and lighten in colour and harvest will soon be upon us. The rape should be ready to combine at the end of July / beginning of August, the winter wheat by mid August and the spring wheat will follow soon after that.

Having been desperate for rain in May and June we would rather it now held off to let harvest happen on time and in the dry, unlike last year. Above 15% moisture, cereal grain in a big heap will heat up and deteriorate. Artificial drying is possible using heated / unheated air blown through the heaps in the storage barn, but the cheapest way to dry grain is to let the sun do it in the field! In order to get a decent day length of harvesting, combines may have to start to cut above 16% expecting that moisture readings will fall as the day progresses and the sun gets to work. Harvesting is often done after dark before the moisture levels rise again with the dew.

The really heavy downpours of rain in early July have been very localized and we have missed many of them. We have even noticed differences in rainfall measurements at our end of the village compared to the top end. Anyhow, torrential rain at this time of year is of little use to crops and is likely to cause damage.

Have you heard of Georgina Downs? She has been campaigning, very effectively, against the use of agricultural pesticides next to residential properties that border cropped fields, after suffering ill health that she claims is caused by chemical spray drift. Last November she won a  ‘landmark’ case in the High Court when the judge ruled that DEFRA’s policy on protecting bystanders from crop spraying was unlawful. On 7th July the Court of Appeal overturned this ruling.

However it is quite likely that Hilary Benn, the Environment Minister – there isn’t a cabinet minister for farming and fisheries anymore – will introduce some form of compulsory restrictions to protect bystanders from crop spraying whatever the outcome of any further rulings on the Downs case.

Clearly pesticides are toxic to a point, as is the fly spray we use in our kitchen or the exhaust emitted from my car. However, farmers can only use products that are recommended after extensive testing and subsequent licensing before becoming available. So it feels rather harsh when the inference of some reporting of a case such as this is that we farmers are pouring vast quantities of poison indiscriminately onto our crops without a thought for the well being of anyone else.

Aside from any personal mutterings as a farmer, this does raise some interesting issues about the interface between the general public and industry of any kind. Noise, dust, fumes and smells are generated from a multitude of industrial and retail activities as well as agriculture. The difference, I suppose, is that no one pays a premium to live next to an industrial estate whereas they might consider doing so for a garden that looks out over fields!

How does our society reconcile the apparent conflict over the rights and needs of two significant sections: the public who have the right to enjoy the countryside, and the farmers who not only make a living from that countryside but also provide much of the basic foodstuffs for our table ?

How do you define a bystander in this particular matter of pesticide spraying ?

I would be interested in your thoughts on this.

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