A BAN on the most-commonly used slug control product, metaldehyde, in 18 months’ time will present a major challenge to Scottish growers, according to NFU Scotland.

Defra plans to ban the outdoor use of metaldehyde from spring 2020 and it said the decision was taken to protect wildlife. But, it will restrict those growing crops susceptible to slugs in GB to costlier ferric-based products, said NFUS.

However, the union argued that metaldehyde has been re-authorised for use in most other EU member states, as well as other non-EU countries, handing a competitive advantage to food producers exporting to GB.

NFUS’ policy manager, Andrew Midgley, said: “The arsenal of plant protection products available to Scottish growers to produce clean, healthy, disease-free crops continues to narrow. Metaldehyde’s potential impact on wildlife and watercourses has been recognised by the industry and farmers are acutely aware of the need to minimise its impact on the environment.

“In autumn 2017, the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group enhanced its guidelines to improve protection of watercourses and minimise the risk to wildlife. Disappointingly, this ban will come before figures on reduced metaldehyde use and water quality can be analysed.

“At the same time, the product remains widely available to farmers and growers across the EU and beyond. Unchecked, slugs can significantly damage crops of cereals, potatoes, brassicas and oilseed rape.

“Without metaldehyde, protection products to tackle slugs are narrowed down to ferric-based ones. The cost per kilo is broadly comparable between the two, but ferric-products require significantly higher application rates, almost doubling the cost per hectare of slug control,” he pointed out.

The ban has also been criticised by others in the industry. Crop protection specialist, Adama’s Alison Bosher, said: “This news comes as a great disappointment, not only to Adama as a manufacturer of metaldehyde slug pellets, but to the wider farming community, especially those growers who rely on effective molluscicides to prevent slugs from inflicting serious damage on their crop, thereby affecting both yield and quality.

“As a member of the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group, Adama has campaigned for the safe and responsible use of all metaldehyde-based products. We also developed our own WaterAware app to promote the responsible use of such chemicals and to safeguard the long-term future availability of this key active ingredient.

“Unfortunately, despite these efforts, the revocation of the authorisation to use metaldehyde leaves UK growers without one of the most effective forms of defence against slugs,” she added.

The decision also met with great disappointment from both the professional and amateur metaldehyde stewardship groups. David Cameron, chairman of the group representing professional users, the Metaldehyde Stewardship Group (MSG), said the news was a major blow to the agricultural industry, who had worked collaboratively to safeguard this key active ingredient for slug control, since 2008.

Ben Shapiro, representing the Amateur Metaldehyde Stewardship group (MSA) said: “We are continuing to consult with Defra surrounding the sell-out period for the amateur uses of metaldehyde products.”

FACT file:

The decision to prohibit the use of metaldehyde followed advice from the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that metaldehyde posed an unacceptable risk to birds and small mammals.

The outdoor use of metaldehyde will be phased out over 18 months to give growers time to adjust to other methods of slug control. It will be legal to sell and distribute metaldehyde products for outdoor use for the next six months, with the disposal, storage and use of existing stocks permissible for a further 12 months.

The products will still be allowed to be used in permanent greenhouses.

The withdrawal currently applies to Great Britain, but not Northern Ireland.