SASA Guest Blog – 20 December 2019

Gillian Reay has worked in the Pesticide Survey Unit at SASA (a division of the Scottish Government’s Agriculture and Rural Delivery Directorate) for over 15 years and is currently the Scottish Government’s pesticide adviser

Protecting crops from insects, weeds and diseases is a critical part of sustainable agriculture and producing plentiful, affordable food.  Pesticides are often the most effective tool farmers have to achieve this, however their use may present challenges to the natural environment, users and consumers.  The collection of data about how pesticides are used is one of a range of pesticide monitoring schemes conducted in the UK.

The Scottish Government’s Pesticide Survey Unit (PSU), based at Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), Edinburgh, has been collecting information about how pesticides are used in Scottish agricultural and horticultural systems since the 1970s.  The data provided by Scottish farmers are an essential independent resource for pesticide regulators, the Scottish Government and a wide range of other stakeholders.  They describe how pesticides have been used historically, how they are currently used, and predict how changes to pesticide availability will affect future Scottish crop protection and production.  Access to high quality independent pesticide usage information is particularly important now, more so than it has been in the past, due to the current impacts of regulatory changes in pesticide approvals and increasing public concern and Government correspondence and lobbying over pesticide usage.  

Pesticide usage information is collected by our small team of surveyors, who interview a representative sample of Scottish farmers and horticulturists about their use of agrochemicals.  The data from this sample are used to estimate how pesticides are used in Scotland. These estimates are published as reports on the SASA and SG websites and there is also a public access database.  We conduct a 4-year cycle of surveys, targeting the main crops grown in Scotland. Arable, soft fruit, vegetable, orchard and protected edible crops are surveyed every two years and grass and fodder crops every four years.  

In addition to the statutory pesticide surveys, we also collect data about other aspects of pest control and crop protection to help fill evidence gaps.  For example, we conduct surveys of Scottish rodenticide use.  This data set is allowing us to investigate the impact of the 2016 rodenticide stewardship scheme on usage patterns and uptake of best practice.  We also survey the uptake of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) by Scottish Growers.   The Scottish Government promotes IPM through a number of activities, including the development and hosting of a Scottish IPM plan and via funding of their strategic research programme and Farm Advisory Service.   By monitoring grower’s uptake of IPM, we provide information about the effectiveness of these promotional activities and an overview of all crop protection practices that growers implement, not just their chemical control.  

Whilst the pesticide usage data are primarily produced as a feedback mechanism to the pesticide regulatory system, the Scottish dataset is used by a wide range of other data users.   The provision of independent data and expert advice to policy officials and Ministers is essential to allow evidence-based policy formation, priority setting and decision making.  Scottish officials regularly access information about how pesticides are used in Scotland and take into account specific differences in use related to Scottish crop patterns, climate and pest pressure; thus assessing the direct impact of regulatory decision making on Scottish agriculture.  We also work closely with the Scottish Plant Health centre on projects investigating the potential impacts arising from pesticide withdrawals to Scotland’s plant health and rural economy.

Our data are accessible to everyone as an independent, unbiased description of how pesticides are used. For example, they are used to inform and complement research conducted by a range of universities and Scottish agricultural research institutions, such as to study the development of fungicide resistance.  They are also used to help shape the risk assessments and monitoring strategies of Scottish environmental regulators and water monitoring bodies.    The pesticide industry, who indirectly help to fund this work via a levy on pesticide approval holders, also uses the information to complement their own sales data and to gain an insight into the use patterns of their own and competitor’s products.  

The survey team would like to thank all the farmers who provide data for the surveys.  In recent years there has been a decrease in the farmer response rate to these surveys. This has resulted in increased workload for the survey team and a reduced sample size, which if the trend continues could impact on data quality. Farmer participation in the surveys is voluntary and without their continued help this important data collection would not be possible.  The 2018 reports (Arable crops & potato stores, Soft fruit crops and Rodenticide use on Arable farms) will be published on the 13th of November.  The team look forward to working with farmers this winter for the surveys of pesticide use on vegetable and protected edible crops.  All farmers who provide pesticide treatment information will be eligible to collect two NRoSO CPD points and two BASIS CPD points.

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