June 27, 2008
By McEwan, Gavin
Protected ornamentals growers are now bracing themselves for restrictions on chemical use. Gavin McEwan reports Changes to the way chemicals are registered for use in the protected ornamentals sector are likely to reduce sharply the range available to growers, leaving many having to rethink their whole approach to pest and disease control.In recent years, ornamentals growers have got used to periodic withdrawal of pesticides and other agents from suppliers' shelves. And in many cases chemical companies have kept step by releasing substitute products to meet the same needs.
But European legislation currently being enacted (HW, 1 May) will mean that the sector will no longer be able to "piggy-back" on the approvals process for the much larger edibles sector. And separate registration for ornamentals alone will in many cases not be cost- effective for suppliers.
HTA business development director Tim Briercliffe says: "It's becoming uneconomical for the companies to take chemicals forward for approval for horticulture - the smaller volumes make it harder. In many cases they will lose that part of the market, but for most of them it's only a small part of their business."
With this in mind, the HDC, supported by the HTA and the NFU, has recently surveyed growers in order to establish which pesticides they considered essential. The survey closed for admissions last month, and the results are expected shortly. These will then guide an HDC-funded programme to provide separate certification to allow use of key products on ornamental crops.
"The trend is toward fewer pesticides," Briercliffe explains. "But this will help growers lose as few as possible of the ones that matter."
One chemical company with a greater stake than most in horticulture is Netherlands-based Certis. UK general manager Peter Hingley says: "A fairly large number are likely to be revoked by the end of this year as part of the European process. We already know we will lose one, the insecticide fipronil, and maybe others."
The company will continue to develop new products, and last month launched FIoramite, registered for mite control on strawberries but usable for ornamentals under a Specific Off-Label Approval (SOLA). "It's getting harder though, and more costly, and that has to be passed onto customers," Hingley says.
He adds that, while the overall market remains fairly constant, the trend in the future will be increasingly for products to be developed for field crops and then "borrowed" for protected crop use, rather than being developed with these specifically in mind.
Companies such as Certis need to develop products with the whole European market in mind. They then have to be registered at both European and national level. "Typically the first will be Holland, and it may come to the UK market later," says Hingley.
Horticulture consultant John Adlam says this fits the current trend towards fewer chemicals being available to growers: "In the UK so many products have gone, and in Europe there's a problem because of the phased revocation. Products like trifluraline, atrazine and simazine have also been withdrawn in the past season, which puts higher demand on those that are still licensed. There's been huge demand for glyphosate, for example. In ornamentals, several were important enough to have 'essential use' status, but that is being withdrawn."
According to Scotts UK Professional marketing manager Dave Steward: "You have to fight for the products you need." But he believes that the situation is not always as bleak as it appears. "Some have been lost due to not having been re-registered," he says. "But there's often a misconception that a product has been withdrawn when its active ingredient has simply been replaced. For example, mecoprop is no longer available because it has been replaced by a similar product, mecoprop-p."
It appears, though, that this information may not always reach ornamentals growers. Yoder Toddington technical manager Victoria Watson says: "We're losing more and more on the nursery, and there's not enough communication from the chemical companies about new developments. I wonder if they realise how worried we are.
"It's becoming particularly difficult to find replacements for herbicides such as paraquat and diquat - knock-down weedkillers that we used to clean up the beds between crops. In a way, that's more difficult now. There are some coming through but it is a worry."
She says that the changes that are afoot mean "it will be an interesting year".
Burston Nurseries director James Alcaraz agrees that the changes will have a significant impact. "It's getting harder and harder to do the job," he says. "We try to avoid chemicals wherever we can. That's partly for environmental reasons, and partly because of cost - just about everything has gone up in price. In that sense we're in the same boat as farmers."
Instead, the bedding and rose supplier relies more on natural products, he says. "We use a lot of plant stimulants such as Hortiphyte, which will cope with low levels of pests like downy and powdery mildew. But you still need the big guns in your armoury in case of a major outbreak."
Briercliffe warns that horticulture could find itself short of chemical controls for specific pests and diseases. "It's no longer possible to simply match a pest or disease with an appropriate cure, and spray that on."
Instead, he says, growers are increasingly having to look at alternative routes. "Integrated pest management and biological controls are now more important than ever. Irrigation, ventilation, climate control and other cultural techniques can go a long way towards controlling diseases.
"Some growers have even found that compost teas can be effective in reducing the incidence of pests and disease attacks," he adds. "Slow sand filtration also allows irrigation water to be purified as it is recycled. You have to think more holistically and it is more complicated."
Plant protection: European legislation may lead to the withdrawal of many products used in glasshouses
FERTILISERS: COST CONCERNS
The latest consequence of surging global demand for fuel and raw materials has been a sharp rise in the price of fertilisers, combined with shortages of particular products.
Scotts' Dave Steward says: "We have had price increases handed to us from the raw-material markets, which is leading to increased prices for our products and shortages of some. There's been a tremendous variation in the cost increases though - from as little as three per cent to more than 100 per cent."
Steward puts the rises down to the combined pressures of higher demand from expanding economies, particularly China, and also the growth of the fertiliser-hungry biofuel industry, in addition to the higher cost of fuel needed to manufacture fertilisers.
Burston Nurseries' James Alcaraz adds: "Fertiliser prices are going up dramatically. We use controlledrelease fertiliser in our compost, and the day you want it, your supplier will shop around for the best price."
The company will also be obliged to pass on prices to its customers later this season, he says. "It's not just the fertiliser, it's the compost, the plastic, the heating, the electricity, the road fuel, the euro rate... We'll have to raise prices to keep going."
Fortunately, he says, "our customers are very understanding - they realise that costs are going up across the board. In fact, it's overdue costs have finally reached breaking point. We're not prepared to compromise on the quality of our product by using cheaper inputs. A few weeks of that and customers will desert you."
Of growers still selling bedding at "silly prices", he says: "I can't see how they can stay in business."
Victoria Watson of Yoder Toddington adds: "We've already seen a rise of a couple of pounds for a 20kg bag of mixed fertiliser this season. Luckily, we'd heard the rise was coming so we stocked up in February. We can absorb cost rises, for the moment."
Copyright Haymarket Business Publications Ltd. May 15, 2008
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