Code of best agricultural practices
In most European countries, agriculture's responsibility as regards environmental quality, in particular that of water, is widely accepted, as also is its determining role in maintaining the countryside. The conservation of water quality seems to be, for each country, a national issue, but it is also international. All the categories of water are concerned; drinking water (surface or underground), with problems as regards nitrate content and pesticide residues, but also bathing water, with specific microbiological problems, and surface waters with the risk of eutrophication.
The discharge into coastal waters of rivers and streams containing undesirable elements extends to the marine environment the concern to limit risks related to agriculture.
In France, a Committee comprising members from diffennt sectors for the control of water pollution resulting from agricultural activities (CORPEN) has been working on the nitrate problem since the beginning of the 1980s. More recently it has been concerned also with pesticides. The avoidance of point pollution (from agro-industry, industrial farms) evidently requires a regulatory approach, whereas diffuse pollution requires a careful study of ‘agricultural practices’, in order to recommend those which seem to present the least risk in terms of nitrate emissions.
•fertilization must be in accordance with the crop needs in order to avoid excessive applications, taking account of supplies from organic sources (manure, slurry),
•soil must not be lett bare during rainy periods,
•the presence of nitrates in the soil during periods between crops must be limited (through the management of crop residues, planting of ‘trap’ crops),
•the countryside must be maintained.
These points are common to all the recommendations, and especially to the codes of good agricultural practice drafted in application of the European Directive.
•adapted to local conditions (climate, soil, crops)
•with an identical content, whatever the origin of the recommendation.
It is along these lines that a series of advisory operations is at present being developed in France in well defined zones, where appropriate advice is given (particularly as regards fertilization) and adopted by all the advisors in the region. This is the ‘Fertimieux’ operation, which calls upon the voluntary co-operation of farmers. In addition, in applying the nitrate directive, action programmes will be developed for each of the vulnerable zones. These good practice recommendations will then be obligatory. In taking account of the pesticide risks, attention must be paid to the consistency of the ‘nitrate’ and ‘pesticide’ recommendations.
Adaptation to the practices of farmers requires a substantial effort in the definition of recommendations and in making them known. All the partners (public authorities, farmers, industry and distributors) must coordinate their efforts. But this is the price for reconciling agricultural activity with maintenance of our way of life, i.e. for ensuring a sustainable agriculture.