I was just wondering what your opinion is of neonicotinoid pesticide use on your farm. I feel compelled to defend them as I realise how useful the seed treatments especially are in protecting vulnerable seedlings, but equally I don't want to defend something that turns out to be harming bees and other wildlife. We grow oilseed rape and cereals and this is where we are likely to use them. With osr there isn't much choice as all seed I order either comes with Cruiser (thiamethoxam) or Modesto (clothianidin). With wheat and barley there is however a choice and we tend only to use Deter (clothianidin) for the very early autumn drilled cereals. I was wondering if you use them on your farm, and if the current debate about them will influence your decision to use them in the future?
Thanks for your email about neonicotinoid pesticide use at Hope Farm.
As you indicate in your email this is a difficult subject, as conservation farmers we want to grow as good quality and high yielding crops as we can while at the same time encouraging wildlife to thrive on the farm. Crops clearly need protection from many ‘pests’ in order to achieve the quality and yield we aim for and being a conventional arable farm we do use the wide range of chemicals that our independent agronomist advises. This includes use of insecticides where required and, to an extent the use of seed dressings.
Normally we use the autocast system to establish our oilseed rape and therefore use seed without any seed treatment in line with regulations. This was a decision made by our contractors based on their experience elsewhere on the benefits of this system for ease of establishment, savings in cost of establishment and as part of our blackgrass control regime. However, this year, due to the conditions in one field, taking into account its previous cropping history, our contractors approached us about using a subcast system to establish the rape. As the seed was to be buried this permitted the use of a dressing, but as you indicate the only dressings available for oilseed rape include neonicotinoids as active agents.
For our wheat we tend to use single purpose dressings.
Neonicotinoids are the subject of some controversy. There is now a lot of evidence from laboratory and field studies that neonicotinoids can affect bees and other insects, even at very low doses. However it’s not yet clear whether neonicotinoids are causing declines of pollinators in the wild. We’ve set out our views here: www.rspb.org.uk/.../Neonicotinoids_and_bees_RSPB_position_tcm9-327906.pdf and we’re keeping this policy under review as more evidence emerges.
You’ll see from our policy statement that we do intend to phase out use of neonicotinoids on our land (unless this would conflict with our wider objectives, e.g. if we wanted to do research into neonicotinoids on a particular site). This will obviously affect Hope Farm but also a few of our reserves where we have small areas of crops and wild bird cover. We have taken this decision because of the very real concerns about possible impacts of neonicotinoids on wildlife, and also so we can improve our understanding of where neonicotinoids are used and what are the alternatives. This will help inform our advice to other land managers, especially if the regulations on neonicotinoids do change in the future.
This is a difficult subject for us both as conservationists and farmers, and one that we are keeping a very close eye on. However, despite being a conventional farm, and using pesticides as required by the crops, we have witnessed some incredible increases in the bird populations at the farm. This has been achieved by creating high quality habitat for birds to nest and feed in through our ELS agreement. We have shown that it is possible to integrate successful management for wildlife into a conventional arable farm, without impacting on the viability of the farm. But the key to this is creating and managing high quality wildlife habitat to mitigate the potential negative impacts of pesticides required to protect the crops.
It isn’t easy being conservation farmers and trying to balance demands from crops and wildlife that may often seem in conflict, but we are passionate about both and thrive on working to find realistic solutions that will allow that balance to be achieved.
Hope Farm Manager