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Fera forges ahead deploying big data to quantify UK pesticide use

Fera forges ahead deploying big data to quantify UK pesticide use

Fera Science is expanding the available datasets for its Pesticide Usage Survey (PUS), to better analyse what is happening with the application of active ingredients across UK farmland.

For example, recent data showing a relative decline in UK oilseed rape (OSR) planted area could be attributed to the withdrawal of neonicotinoid applications available to farmers, particularly affecting southern England, said David Garthwaite, Pesticide Usage Survey Manager, at York-based Fera Science.

Neonics have been particularly effective in combating cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) presence on OSR crops across those counties, hence the NFU has argued against the ban, albeit unsuccessfully so far.  

Other Fera data shows that the main organophosphate insecticide used on orchards has been Chlorpyrifos. However, its approval was lost in 2016. Further surveys will determine whether this will result in an increase in the use of pyrethroids across UK orchards.

Information on data collected for PUS is commissioned by the Independent Expert Committee on Pesticides, and funded by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD). Pesticides and biocides are carefully assessed before approval under the Plant Protection Products regulations and Biocidal Products regulations.

PUS collects usage data usually on a two-year cycle, ensuring that the main crops grown in the UK are covered at least once every four years. Arable, soft fruit, vegetable and protected edible crops are surveyed biennially with grass and fodder crops surveyed every four years.

The reports detail pesticide usage on each crop in terms of weight, area and the percentage treated with specific active substances which include conventional pesticides, biopesticides, and living biocontrol organisms. Surveys are voluntary but still achieve a 90% plus response rate.

The following table shows the number of UK farms covered in the latest survey for each crop class, and the share of total farmland represented by these.  


Fera is now 75% owned by Capita and expanding the range of products and services it offers to farmers, both in the UK and beyond. Defra holds the remaining 25% under a joint venture structure.  

For example, Fera is engaged in plant uptake studies for refining chemical exposure assessments. The Plant Uptake Factor (PUF) is used in Environmental Fate Models to measure the proportion of chemical absorbed into the plant through the roots.

The size of the PUF value can significantly affect the mass of chemical available in the soil pore water and subsequently the predicted concentrations in soil, leading to the leaching potential in groundwater. Current guidance recommends a default value of zero is applied to the models.

Fera has also been a key participant into protocol design, with the main objectives being to proposed a new standardised, validated test design, to drive PUF for regulatory leaching models. These simulate plant uptake by considering the soil water consumed by plants and other factors.