WELSH soft fruit and ornamental flower growers are drafting in insect predators to control pests the natural way.
The horticulture industry aspires to achieve zero pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables and that means using nature’s own controls.
During a Farming Connect Knowledge Transfer Event at Springfields Fresh Produce, Manorbier, growers were given expert advice on this approach, known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), by ADAS soft fruit and ornamental plant adviser, Chris Creed. It was also an opportunity to share their own experiences and ideas.
IPM seeks to manage pests and diseases without damaging the environment and beneficial organisms.
Nick and Pat Bean have been growing horticulture crops at Springfields for 30 years and only use sprays to combat pest infestations as a last resort. “We don’t use any conventional pesticides during harvesting. To achieve that you need to know the lifecycle of the pests you are fighting against and understand the physiology of your crops,’’ explained Nick, who grows daffodils, soft fruit and asparagus.
“You have to anticipate what is going to come in and be prepared to do everything at the right time.’’ Nick and Pat use pheromone and coloured sticky traps as an advanced warning of pest levels.
The majority of growers embrace IPM as they recognise it as the right approach. Government directives are also designed to ensure conventional pesticides are only used when other approaches have failed, directives enforced by auditors.
“It is nothing more complicated than good crop hygiene and husbandry,’’ said Nick.
For those who use chemical sprays to control pests and disease, natural biological pesticides are available.
There are multitudes of pest species intent on damaging crops in Wales but among the worst is the Western flower thrips. This prolific pest is resistant to all pesticides and was responsible for destroying hundreds of acres of strawberries last year.
Chris Creed recommends using predators, in the case of Western flower thrips, Neoseiulus cucumeris, to eat the insects as they hatch. “On the farms I work with, we introduce 25 predators per plant every two weeks which reflects how serious this problem is and it has been quite a success story,’’ he said.
It takes time, often a month, for predators to establish on the crop before they control the pest. “Patience is therefore important” said Mr Creed.
The Western flower thrips is among five main pest species which attack the flowers of developing fruit and vegetables. The others are the capsid bug, pollen beetle, British thrips and blossom weevils.
Mr Creed recommended encouraging wild predators, which can be very tolerant to pesticides within IPM programmes. This could mean introducing background plants such as nettles which provide habitat and food for these predators. Mr Creed also advises using plant varieties which are resistant to pests.
Regular crop inspections should be carried out through the growing season. “Either monitor the crops yourself or use an agronomist,’’ advised Mr Creed. “There should be a lot of crop walking and checking and making key decisions.
“It may be that if you spot red spider mites in March you use a pesticide then because predators don’t work when the temperature is under ten degrees Celsius. Predators can then be introduced in May.’’
Mr and Mrs Bean regard membership of organisations such as the Horticultural Development Council is essential for keeping them up to date on new pests and diseases and control methods.
“There is huge value in knowing what is going on in the industry, it is important not to be isolated. We are on our fifth system of growing strawberries here and it is by attending events like this organised by Farming Connect where we can exchange information that has allowed us to do that.’’
The Farming Connect event at Springfields Fresh Produce was facilitated by Jamie McCoy.
Farming faces zero carbon challenge
AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.
Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.
Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.
According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.
“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.
“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.
“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.
“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.
“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”
HSE fees up 20%
A FEE imposed on farm businesses found to be in breach of health and safety legislation has gone up nearly 20% to £154/hr.
Since October 2012 the Health and Safety Executive has operated a cost recovery regime, which means that businesses are charged for the costs of an investigation from the point a material breach has been identified through to the point when a decision is made on enforcement action.
If you are found to be in material breach of health and safety law, you will have to pay for the time it takes the HSE to identify the breach and help you put things right. This includes investigating and taking enforcement action. This charging scheme is known as a Fee for Intervention (FFI).
Robert Gazely, farm consultant and health and safety specialist for Strutt & Parker said: “A material breach is something which an inspector considers serious enough that they need to formally write to the business requiring action to be taken. Once an inspector gives a farmer this written notification of contravention (NoC), the farmer will be expected to pay a fee.
“From 6 April 2019, the hourly charge has been increased from £129 to £154. The final bill will be based on the total amount of time it takes the HSE inspector to identify the breach and their work to help put things right.
“Of course, the primary reason for farms to be proactive in their approach to health and safety should be to protect themselves, their families and any employees.
“The number of people who are killed and injured each year on farms remains stubbornly high and the human cost of these incidents can be incalculable to those affected.
“But taking a safety-first approach should also help farm businesses to avoid a financial hit, as the HSE fees can mount up in the event of an investigation.”
Red meat gives ‘Taste of Wales’
WELSH Lamb and Welsh Beef were among the finest of Welsh foods at Wales’ largest and most prestigious food and drink trade event, Taste Wales last month.
The remarkable display of products, all under one roof, brought together a large contingent of UK and overseas buyers, including importers with a specific interest in Welsh red meat. These included a major foodservice and retail importer and distributor from Scandinavia that imports 6,000 million tonnes of meat annually from all over the world. The company is recognised for bringing tasty food experiences to Nordic dining tables.
They were invited to the event by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) who also arranged site visits to some of Wales’ major red meat processing plants. The main aim was to impress the importers with the industry’s high ethical and environmental standards.
The visit, led by HCC’s market representatives in Scandinavia, was a platform for many productive and promising discussions.
One representative, Anette Stenebrandt said at Taste Wales: “We have a company from Sweden and Finland with us, trying to do some new business in the Nordic-speaking countries. This is really a fantastic fair and we have enjoyed it a lot.”
Her colleague Jakob True added: “This is our first time here at this amazing event, it’s a great opportunity to meet a lot of Welsh producers, particularly Welsh Lamb which is world-class, we know. We’ll go back to Scandinavia with a lot of good new leads and hopefully bring a lot of business to Wales.”
HCC’s Market Development Manager, Rhys Llywelyn said: “Many of the buyers we met at Taste Wales, including the Scandinavians, showed a significant interest in Welsh Lamb and were impressed by the whole package – from the story of producing Welsh Lamb to the processing techniques, the taste and texture.
“Others also expressed a keen interest in forging deals with the industry, including a Japanese department store, a major buyer from Hong Kong and a representative from Qatar. This bodes well for the future, especially as Brexit uncertainty is set to continue in light of the extension on Article 50.”
In recent months, HCC has undertaken a strategic GB marketing drive to encourage growth and recognition of our quality produce on British soil.
HCC’s UK Market Development Executive, Emily Davies said: “Our presence at Taste Wales also included concentrating our efforts on promoting Welsh Lamb in the domestic market. We met a number of foodservice companies, retailers and executive chefs and discussed Welsh red meat opportunities with meal-kit companies and online retailers. We also launched a new tool-kit for retailers which highlights the ways in which we can work with them to promote Welsh Lamb and Beef.”
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