Spray to be grain industry's 'mulesing'

SPRAYING is the grain industry's mulesing. Ask anyone within the farm chemical industry and they will unequivocally tell you they expect both regulation and public scrutiny to increase in the medium term and certain products to come under scrutiny.

One example of this comes in Bayer's decision to end endosulfan sales in Australia by the end of next year.

This decision has created howls of outrage from some who would maintain that farmers are being robbed of the use of an effective insecticide still permitted for use by the farm chemicals peak body the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA).

But farmers need to move on from such "scorched earth" products as "endo", and to also take the opportunity to garner a little positive publicity in metropolitan areas as well.

Research from groups such as Southern Farming Systems has found that farmers are increasingly moving away from blanket insecticides and are instead looking to focus on cultivating beneficial insect species, in some cases averting the need for insecticide altogether.

It is a good news story about environmental stewardship that is not getting out to a wider audience, with many urban residents still holding the perception that commercial farming involves unsustainable practices and wholesale pesticide applications without a view to side-effects.

The farming lobby needs to make better use of the many good news stories where smarter farming has reduced or eliminated the need for chemical application and underline its environmental credentials to the public as a whole.

This publicity campaign needs to be extended further – to demonstrate that far from simply being a cash-motivated process, judicious chemical application can have a beneficial impact on the environment.

The organic lobby has enjoyed the unchallenged perception that organic systems automatically have the best environmental credentials.

In broadacre environments, factors such as the increased erosion, salinity and weed seed spread caused by increased cultivation necessitated by a lack of a chemical alternative, mean that in many cases an organic system is less sustainable than one which makes prudent use of safe chemicals.

Yet when the average Brunswick or Fitzroy consumer is asked which method of farming does most for the environment, the answer is an unswerving, slavish singing of organics praise.

This is not an attack on organic farming, which has a solid fit in many applications – it is just a call for conventional farmers to better advertise their environmental stewardship credentials, which for too long have been positioned in the background.

Let's keep using safe chemicals in an appropriate manner, let's try and make a voluntary move away from some of the nastier compounds available on the market and let's make a greater effort to let the public know what we are doing. It's a win-win situation for all.

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Grain of TruthRural Press grains writer Gregor Heard on the big issues facing the broadacre farmers today.

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