‘We believe the future of farming should be pesticide free’

April 9, 2017

CHEMICAL FREE: Leeks were one of the first vegetables Riverford Organic grew and they found using varieties more resistant to rust and planting them slightly further apart was a successful solution to combating rust rather than applying fungicide.


FIELD RESEARCH: Riverford Organic founder Guy Watson and his staff found through trial and error ways to deal with rust and greenhouse-based pests without resorting to use chemicals, as it was not the interest of agrochemical firms to provide that sort of information.


DANGER ZONE: This worker empties an agrochemical into a vat.


A CRITICALLY-acclaimed organic co-operative that serves Dorset, Somerset and the New Forest has articulated in a video he makes claims about how pesticide farming really works.

Riverford Organic was set up in the 1980s and was initially a local co-operative set up by founder Guy Watson serving 30 customers in South Devon and now sends out 47,000 boxes weekly to homes around the UK, from their regional farms.

Watson insists there are ways and means that the agrochemical industry won’t draw attention to when dealing with pests and fungal infections without the use of chemicals.

He planted his first field of vegetables in 1986 and they were leeks and didn’t want to use chemicals on offer to deal with a disease leeks suffer called Rust Puccinia which is  a disease spread by rain splash in warm weather and rips through a field.

Mr Watson said: “The main source of information for farmers today is the agrochemical industry, so if you’ve got a problem and you ring up an agrochemical salesman, he has a solution in a can to solve all your problems.

“He is not going to tell you that if you grew a different variety you wouldn’t have the problem in the first place or if you grew them a little further apart you wouldn’t have a problem. He won’t make any money out of that.

“With the leeks, I made a few calls and the agrochemical salesman told me what you need to do is spray it with some fungicide and that’ll clear it up.

“Anyway I didn’t and in November it got colder and the leeks grew away from the rust and I ended up having a fantastic crop.

“When you’re a farmer in your field on your own and it’s all going wrong that little whisper in your ear I’ve got the solution to all your problems in a chemical container is pretty persuasive and I’m very glad that I didn’t listen to them. We have subsequently found that there are variety of leeks which have quite good resistance to rust. By growing those varieties and growing just a little bit further apart it really is not necessary to spray leeks with fungicide.

“About 75 per cent of agrochemicals are sold by four global companies and increasingly they have also bought up the seed industry, and they control the supply of seeds and the use of chemicals and they have been completely dictating the direction agriculture has gone in, which is really more about their profits than producing healthy food or maintaining farming incomes.”

When the co-operative used greenhouses to grow peppers, tomatoes and aubergines for their veggie boxes, they were devastated by red spider mite and aphids and the Ministry of Agriculture and agrochemical firms advised them to fumigate them with some toxic chemicals which they were advised were safe then, but are not now.

Watson continued: “How are we supposed to believe the government if it is safe to use neonicotonoids?

“I’m pretty sure they will be banned like all the chemicals l used when I was a teenager.

“There is no safe level for a nervous-system disrupting insecticide, there’s no safe level for a hormone disrupting herbicide, not for a bee, not for a leek, not for a human.

“We slowly found that managing the habitat for predatory insects, and sometimes ctually introducing predatory insects and we could control all those pests.”

“Interestingly 20 years later that is what everyone is doing because the chemicals they were using, either the insects have acquired resistance or they’ve been banned because they are not safe for use. Almost everyone is using an ecological approach to insects in greenhouses because they’ve had to.

“To arrive at a saner agricultural system, we really do need to invest in knowledge and we can’t expect private enterprise to do this because it doesn’t produce something that is saleable at the end of it. So we need agricultural colleges, horticultural colleges, we need natural sciences that aren’t funded by agrochemical companies.

“Since the 1970s the Government has been gradually withdrawing anything that it regards as near market research. If you allow the industry to fund research, it will lead you to towards things to make money out of and that is what has happened to agriculture since the 1960s.”

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