SPECIALISTS who advise the arable farming industry have been told that new 'green' farming policies will mean that integrated pest management (IPM) will play an increasing role in UK crop production post-Brexit.

Speaking at the recent Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) near Towcester, NFU president, Minette Batters, told delegates that 42% of farm businesses will be loss-making if direct payments are lost after the UK leaves the EU. Farm output will need to be raised by 10% or more to counter this effect, but Defra secretary, Michael Gove’s focus to deliver his 'Green Brexit', with less emphasis on food production, could restrict the sector’s ability to do so.

Whatever the final details future agricultural policy hold, increasing output will have to be done in an environmentally sensitive way, with IPM an integral part, according to Ms Batters. This practice is based on prevention, monitoring and control of damaging organisms using a range of cultural and biological methods, and then using of plant protection products only when absolutely necessary.

She added that influencing outside views on the use of these vital tools will be important as a driver of public perception. “I have been very keen that the cropping sector looks at what the livestock sector has done with RUMA, which has been about responsible use of medicines and antibiotics. This isn’t about using less, this is about us as an industry being transparent and having an evidence base, and I think that will become more and more important,” she told delegates.

AICC chairman and Lincolnshire agronomist, Sean Sparling, echoed her sentiments, but warned against a shift towards relying too heavily on non-chemical approaches, with the current 'hybrid' system allowing the production of safe, plentiful and affordable food.

He said modern plant protection products had passed a decade of regulatory scrutiny before being approved for use on a farm level and are recommended by highly qualified advisers. “We use them because the natural and cultural answers need more help today than ever before, as the problems we face in the field are evolving more rapidly than ever before, not helped by climate change,” pointed out Mr Sparling.

AICC members are proactive in the practice of IPM and have shown the power to turn around nationwide surveys covering huge areas of the national cropped area in hours to help inform its strategy, demonstrated by its annual cabbage stem flea beetle survey. “To our members, IPM isn’t just the latest fad, it’s a crucial area of expertise in our armoury and is firmly behind every single decision we make,” said Mr Sparling.

Delegates at the AICC conference heard from a range of experts on current IPM tools and latest areas of research aimed at improving its implementation. AHDB’s Charlotte Rowley showcased a growing range of pest monitoring aids, including risk forecasts, bulletins and online tools for UK growers, such as the recently launched BYDV management tool which is be particularly useful since the removal of neonicotinoids.

Sam Cook, of Rothamsted Research, informed delegates how natural enemies might be harnessed for biocontrol of oilseed rape pests, such as pollen and cabbage stem flea beetles. Early indications show min- or no-till establishment help preserve parasitoid numbers, while field margins help boost numbers of generalist beneficial insects.

Spring insecticides in cereal crops following oilseed rape may knock out parasitoids of OSR pests and, like insecticides in oilseed rape, should only be when absolutely necessary, she said.