A proposal has been put before the European Parliament to amend the current legislation that governs how and where plant protection products can be used. In the UK we know exactly who, how and where the herbicides fungicides and insecticides that help us create playing surfaces are used thanks to clear legislation, a good statutory code of practice and product labeling. We know that the products that are approved based on a rigorous evaluation of scientific data that takes account of safety to the environment, the user and the grass.
The DEFRA agency that approves pesticide products, PSD is a world leading authority on evaluating the effectiveness and safety of pesticide products. Thanks to them we can be sure that when used as directed by the label, we will achieve the results we desire without harming ourselves or the environment. We know who can apply these tools competently and safely thanks to the NPTC training modules (PA1, PA2 and PA6 etc) needed to apply pesticides legally.
Professional advice on the use and sale of plant protection products can only be given by professionals that hold the BASIS certificate. So it is clear in the UK who can use, who can advise and where the tools that control weeds, diseases and pests can be used.
We can be assured that thanks to the product approval, training and education process that the users and advisors of plant protection products go through, the UK is well served to preserve our man made environments and minimise our impact on nature. This education and training based approach, with users that are aware of the risks to the environment and to health and safety can and should be described as sustainable.
In other countries in Europe there is no system that compares to ours. In most countries pesticide stores do not need to be registered or inspected. Advisors or sales staff do not require a formal professional qualification (like BASIS) to advise on the best use and most appropriate cultural practice or product to achieve the desired result.
To address this lack of control over how pesticide products are used in some other EU states, a proposal has been put before the European parliament "to withdraw the use of pesticides in all public amenity areas", under the heading of "Proposals for a Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and a Regulation on Pesticide Authorisations". This is a dry title to say the least, but if the European parliament votes in favour of it, it will have a catastrophic effect on sports turf and urban space management.
As a Greenkeeper or Groundsman how will your ability to manage your greens, fairways, training pitches or match pitch be affected if you cannot treat the weeds, cannot suppress Fusarium flare ups or prevent leather jackets eating your hard work? This can happen. It is being considered by the European parliament right now, and is due to be voted on in October.
This issue goes way beyond the availability of tools to effectively manage the superb golf courses and sports pitches the UK is famous for the world over. It affects how weeds will be controlled in the streets. It affects how vegetation will be controlled in areas where safety is a critical issue such as the highways and railways and other industrial areas depending on how "public and amenity area" is defined.
By removing the ability to control weeds and unwanted vegetation effectively (by effectively I mean in a reasonable amount of time and at a cost that is affordable) what would be the legal remaining options?
In the world of well groomed grass there is one. Hand weeding. Is it realistic to expect grounds staff to hand weed the grass areas they manage? Some premiership football clubs have up to twelve training pitches. Can they afford the time and labour it would take to walk over every pitch to carefully tease out the plants that have grown in the wrong place?
In an urban environment there are alternatives. Infra red equipment - or flamers (propane burning) can toast the weeds. The carbon footprint of this method may draw some attention, as well as the potential to singe the odd garden fence. Wire brushes can be mounted on street sweeping equipment to scrape the top off weeds. As we all know this may lead to the perennial ones coming back roughly two weeks later.
This method has also been known to cause damage to the pavement itself, which then means that the repairs need to be paid for. Weeds can be treated with steam too. This again involves large amounts of energy and water, and some impressive sized tackle to generate the steam by burning diesel. None of these methods are as effective or affordable as the current method of treating with glyphosate.
The ridiculous part of this proposal, if it is successful, is that as a private home owner, you could still use a home and garden product containing Dicamba, MCPA or glyphosate to treat your weeds at home, but as a professional grounds manager these usefull actives would no longer be available to you to use at work.
In Europe the lack of availability of solutions to turf problems has lead to grounds managers taking steps that go outside of what is permitted. Products that do not hold approval in Germany but can be purchased in Italy to treat Fusarium have been used on night time spraying missions to try and save greens that have been ravaged by severe disease flare ups.
There are other examples of agricultural products being used on pitches and golf courses due to the lack of effective solutions with turf approval in EU states with more draconian approaches to approving plant protection products in managed turf situations. The key point here is that under pressure, agricultural products and even home and garden products could be used illegally, even at night to relieve the problems that we have safe effective solutions for at present. This is a situation that no one would welcome.
Lobby your MEP. The website www.europarl.org.uk will tell you who your MEP is. For your MEP to represent your views they must first know them. Write to them or email them and tell them how as a professional your ability to provide and maintain your course or pitches will be affected if this proposal to ban the public use if pesticides is voted through in the EU parliament.
If as an industry we don't make our views as professionals known, then our ability to provide the world class grass that we have worked so hard to create will be made impossible by ill conceived, poorly thought out, one shoes fits all legislation that takes no account of the UK's leading position in terms of training, education and professionalism.