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Cousins working together on our family owned farm with the aim of running a commercial modern farm producing high yielding, high standard crops while maximising wildlife diversity. Brian is said to be the farmer and conservationist, whereas Patrick is a conservationist and farmer. This mix has given a new direction for the farm, building upon the work that our fathers and grandfather has done to improve the overall success of the farm business. The farm has gone from strength to strength with the farm being recognised at a national level winning the coveted National FWAG’s Silver Lapwing Award for farming and conservation in 2009 and then Patrick and Brian were named Countryside Farmer of the Year by the Farmers Weekly in 2010.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Agri-chemicals used on the Farm

Well, the tail end of winter is starting to warm up and the first signs of spring are beginning to show; catkins are on the hedgerows and the aconites and snow drops are pushing up through the ground. The crops are also showing us that the soil is warming in the early spring sun, which has also greened up the oil seed rape, grass and wheat crops. The strong wind over the weekend is drying the surface nicely, so soon when out and about, you will be seeing farmers spinning a bit of nitrogen on the rape and the sprayers covering the ground, catching up on the herbicide applications that got cut short by winter closing in early.
The sprayer is one of the most important machines on the farm.  It is a very necessary, expensive, accurate and sometimes controversial piece of equipment. To the farmer this is the one piece of equipment that can dramatically improve his yields, due to the full range of agri-chemicals that he can accurately apply to his crops.  The pesticides that are applied through this machine are important to our business as they keep the crops clean of invasive weeds, prevent and cure disease outbreaks, give vital folia feed so they grow strong, and eradicate any nasty pests that damage and can kill our crops. These pesticides are seen by some as very controversial and each year the media find a story to run about bad usage of them - normally how someone thinks that the spraying of these chemicals have caused ill health to them or a pet or wild animal. The farming industry as a whole, seems to get hit by these bad news stories very often and normally they disappear quickly as the allegations are untrue or unprovable.  It is sad when you read these articles, as the UK farmers have to comply with the most strict and comprehensive regulations with anything to do with agri-chemicals. Any chemical that we apply is tested, tested, tested and independently tested by the Government before it is allowed to be registered for use on the farm. The chemical companies’ research and development costs of these chemicals run into the hundreds of millions of pounds per chemical launched in the UK. New chemistry is hard to come by and so farmers know the importance of using them correctly within the regulations to make sure that they are kept on the market for safe use when needed.
Here at E. J. Barker & Sons we consider the importance of protecting the environment against over-use of pesticides and against accidental contamination of watercourses, as paramount. Accidental contamination can be due to unforeseen problems that may occur with any business using chemicals, for example, spillages when filling, or a fire in store, or accidents on roads with the sprayer full.  To minimize any potential problem we try and reduce the risk of them happening. This could be through specialist training, good working practice, voluntary schemes like the National Register of Sprayer operators (NRoSO) and the NSTS annual inspection of our sprayer, basically an MOT for the sprayer.
Improvements in good working practice happen all the time on our farm as we try and better ourselves in all areas of the business. This prompted us to upgrade our farm’s chemical storage and emergency spillage plan in 2007. Our old store was adequate and covered the necessary legal requirements but it did have a few potential problems in my eyes, for instance the spray store was small and we could not buy in bulk or store all the chemical we may need at the busy times of year, all chemical cans had to be unloaded by hand, which was time consuming and bad for one’s back, the sprayer filling area and the store opened out onto a public bridle path that runs through the middle of our yard at Westhorpe and if there was a spillage or overflow the run off would either go down the yard into our pond, or into the farm’s bore hole 5m away, it was a no-brainer in my eyes that it had to be improved.
We looked at different buildings on the farm that we could adapt and move the chemical store to; the most obvious was the old sow pig house. This was ideal as it had an isolated drainage network that meant any liquid falling on and around the building and muck pad next to it, was kept separate from the storm drains, and they emptied into the old slurry lagoon via a pumping system.
We had our location and so we started our research, I took advice from the Environment Agency, our chemical suppler, our agronomist and the local Police and Fire force to make sure what we were to build would be as state of the art as possible, and comply with all the needed regulations - without breaking the bank!  We had just bought a new sprayer which had a larger spraying capacity, so we needed to look at storing more water on site and we also had to create an area to deal with the waste plastic, due to the regulations which require all farm plastic to be recycled. It was required to be stored dry and clean until it was removed from the site. 
We designed a plan of works and worked to a budget. We started the work in Feb 2007 and we had it finished by early April 2007. We built it within budget and recycled water tanks from the piggeries. The new store is very up to date with 20,000L storage of water. This water is predominately mains fed but we also recycle grey water off the roof via a rain harvesting filter and system. There is a gentle sloping filling station where the sprayer parks at filling, which has a submerged pump in a collection tank where, given an emergency when filling, the operator can hit a switch on the wall and divert any spill into a 1000L plastic holding tank to be correctly dealt with. The new store opens on to this area, so no chemical is carried outside the store and the filling area. Inside the store it has an impermeable concrete floor and bund that allows us to store up to 1700L of chemical without chance of all the chemical escaping out of container and breaching the bund. The store has a loading door which allows us to unload the chemical on pallets and place the pallets within the store by use of our telescopic reach handler. The roof is made of tin with wooden supports so that, in case of a fire, the roof would collapse inwards and the solid brick walls would create a furnace effect to burn the chemicals safely at a very high temperature. The walls and roof are well insulated so the inside temperature never drops below freezing, which would damage chemicals or packaging, and it has an extraction vent at top and bottom (above the bund level) to remove any chemical vapours. The shelving is made of metal so it does not absorb liquids and it is all well lit, so that we can read labels, and we store the chemicals by category for ease of identification, always keeping powders and granules above liquid, in case of spillage. Regular stock takes allow us to monitor what we are storing and who long they have been in store so they do not go past the ‘use by date’ which is set out by the Governments industry advisors.
Outside the store we have high levels of security and timed lights and it’s fully weather proof. Along from the store we have our recycling area, which is where we dry cans on a drying rack and store in large bags before they are removed. There is an operator’s office with first aid kit, eye wash station, basin, storage for the correct PPE and any books and information that he needs in his sprayer at any time.
These are all required but most importantly there is no way any chemical spill that occurs at filling or in store could every make its way into the water course. If it got past the spill tank it would end up in the lagoon being diluted to parts per billion with a year’s worth of dirty rain water from that which is collected on the concrete surrounding the building.
Once in the field, Nick, our sprayer operator, follows strict laws and guidelines, so spray drift is minimized by correct setting and timings. Watercourses are protected by grass margins, so chemicals do not find their way into them directly and all spray applications are recorded by Nick and me, so that we have full traceability records of what has been applied, how much, in what conditions and at what time, so nothing is left to chance if a problem arises.
Ironically, the only chemicals that do not get this level of attention are by far the most dangerous on the farm and can only be found under the kitchen sink - and they are bought over the counter in shops and supermarkets!!      BWB

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