As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Agronomists moving away from chemistry
by Arable Farming Nov/Dec 2020 issue
The latest news for BASIS and FACTS-qualified farmers and advisers.
The days of reaching for a can to control pests are over and farmers must now look to use every weapon in the armoury to grow healthy crops and protect the environment, says farmer, agronomist and BASIS trainer Chris Tolley.
Farming 160 hectares of combinable crops in partnership with his father near Shepshed, Leicestershire, Mr Tolley also advises on a further 2,200ha and for the past 12 years has been teaching BASIS courses, mainly with Lincoln University.
Mr Tolley has seen a significant shift of emphasis in his BASIS students over the past five or six years as interest has grown in the use of integrated pest management (IPM).
He says: “A decade ago everyone just wanted to know what chemical they needed for a problem.
Today, most BASIS courses begin with IPM and aim to promote using every form of control including cultivations, variety choice, sowing date and so on.” The reason for this shifting emphasis is two-fold.
Firstly, ever fewer chemicals are available due to a combination of regulatory restriction and increasing resistance to chemicals.
And secondly, the greater emphasis attached to environmental protection which is likely to be emphasised by the Environment Bill making its way to the statute books.
This integrated approach has long been endorsed by the sustainable farming organisation, Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf).
Importance Lucy Bates, who recently took the post of technical manager at Leaf, explains the importance of making use of ‘every tool in the farmer’s toolbox’.
“There are no silver bullets,” she says.
“Today farmers need to look at every aspect of their growing system and choose the best combination of options to minimise the threat of pests, weeds or disease without compromising the wider ecosystem.” Ms Bates, who holds several BASIS qualifications and a master’s degree in agroecology from Harper Adams University, does not see IPM as something new.
“Farmers have been using many of these techniques for years and they form a core aspect of integrated farm management as exemplified on 40 Leaf demonstration farms across the country.
However, the integration of these various techniques is now becoming increasingly formalised.” IPM benefits crop production and biodiversity, but it can also play a part in helping the reputation of the industry.
Messages about how farmers are protecting and enhancing the countryside through implementing IPM feature within Leaf education programmes that reach out to pupils in schools across the country.
Today, BASIS takes IPM increasingly seriously with some 15 courses dedicated to the subject which form a key part of Leaf ’s BASIS-accredited ‘Introduction to integrated farm management’ course.
In addition, where appropriate, IPM is taken into account as other courses are updated.
Greg Hopkinson, BASIS technical manager, says: “There is no doubt IPM will play an increasingly important part in all we do.”
More on IPM
This year, Leaf and the Crop Protection Association produced a new technical guide to help farmers understand how to put IPM into practice using eight simple steps, set out in the free 40-page booklet ‘Simply Sustainable – Integrated Pest Management’.
To download the booklet, visit leafuk.org