‘Grandfathers’ make the grade in spraying - Agrii - Connecting Agri-science with farming

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April 2, 2014

‘Grandfathers’ make the grade in spraying

Agrii is helping fruit growers make sure their sprayer operators are fully qualified by organising training courses on their farms

The arrival of the Sustainable Use Directive, which brings to an end ‘grandfather rights’ for sprayer operators next year, is seeing a whole generation of growers and staff needing to gain the appropriate qualification to enable them to continue spraying. But a new initiative by agronomy company Agrii, which arranged a series of sprayer training days last winter mainly for the fruit growers among its clients, is finding growers more than keen to enrol staff new to spraying as well as ‘old-hands’ who want some preparation for their certificate assessment. More than 80 people attended the training events over this winter and achieved the required level of competence in their assessments.

What makes these training events so popular is that they are run on growers’ own farms using their own equipment, where candidates are also later assessed. “We put on a couple of courses in the south-east the winter before last, to see what the response was like, and again this winter,” says Agrii fruit agronomist for Kent, Sussex and Herefordshire, Brendan Rhodes. “But I have been surprised by the uptake so far. We found that, quite often, we’d started to organise a course because we were confident that we had enough interest from growers ­– and by the time it was ready to run, we had had so many enquiries we had to set up another, later date. All growers have to do is say ‘yes’ and we do everything else for them.”

The courses, which are offered at a competitive rate, have mainly been for the PA1 award – a qualification covering the principles for safe handling and application of pesticides, which all operators new to spraying must hold whatever type of sprayer they will be using – and the PA3 certificate for variable geometry boom or broadcast sprayers, which includes air-assisted sprayers.

“Operators enrolled onto the courses have ranged from complete novices to experienced sprayers working under grandfather rights,” says Paul Bannister of Amenity Training & Consultancy, who has been the trainer for the fruit courses that Agrii has arranged.

Those spraying under grandfather rights may be holding training certificates that are no longer recognised under the new legislation; others may have already got as far as the PA1 but not progressed to an application module, or sat the courses and not got as far as the actual assessment.

Training for the PA1 foundation course takes a day and a half and is spent in the classroom. “This covers key aspects of legislation which apply to the use of pesticides,” says Mr Bannister. “At the end of the course, candidates will also understand how to store pesticides correctly, how to dispose of empty pesticide containers and washings, and how to maintain the correct personal protective equipment. They will also understand the need for record-keeping and the situations where pesticide application may pose a risk to people or the environment.”

The PA3 application module, which takes two days, looks at how to prepare the sprayer for work and how to maintain and use it safely. This includes how to check the equipment for mechanical defects; how to select spray volume and quality, and to calibrate application; and how to calculate, measure and mix the pesticide and fill the tank.

Those born before December 31, 1964, who have been allowed to apply plant protection products on their own or employer’s land under grandfather rights, need to qualify for a certificate of competence if they want to carry on spraying after November 26, 2015. At the same time, anyone who buys such products authorised for professional use must ensure that whoever is going to apply the product holds the appropriate certification.

There are two options open to those currently spraying under grandfather rights: either they achieve competency in the PA1 and an appropriate application module, such as the PA3; or they apply for a new certificate of competency, the Level 2 award in ‘safe use of pesticides replacing grandfather rights’. This involves one mandatory unit plus at least one further unit depending on the type of sprayer equipment the operator uses, for which there is just one practical assessment.

While it is down to personal choice which route such operators opt for, Mr Bannister points out that the new ‘replacement’ award will allow you only to apply pesticides on your own or your employer’s land. “It is not transferable and does not cover contractors,” he says.

Sprayer courses are obviously available elsewhere, but Mr Rhodes says they sometimes fail to run through lack of enough interest or because they’re just too inconvenient for growers’ staff to get to easily.

One of the attractions of an Agrii-organised course for apple grower Robert England, farm manager at Boxford (Suffolk) Farms, who hosted a training event in February, was that his staff didn’t have to leave the site at Sudbury. Six of his workers attended the course along with two from neighbouring fruit farms. “If I had to send staff out of the county to sit a course, I would have only probably sent my two operators who are working under grandfather rights because of the time away from the business,” says Mr England. “This way I could also train up some of the younger staff who have never sprayed before at the same time.”

Another benefit of running such courses on the farm, he says, is that workers are more comfortable using equipment they are familiar with. “If it was held elsewhere, the equipment could be older or just different,” he says.

An added extra is that Agrii arranges for the assessment of candidates too. “It’s not unknown for some people to complete the training but never get round to the test,” says Mr Rhodes. “So when we set the date for a training event we book a block of assessments, too, which are normally for the following week.”

Agrii is planning a series of seminars later this year to explain the changes in legislation and what is now required of operators spraying under grandfather rights in terms of qualifications. “Some may decide they don’t need any extra training,” says Mr Rhodes. “But growers just have one more ‘dormant season’ left to them in which to make sure they or any of their staff spraying under grandfather rights gain the right certification. And the Agrii team will be looking forward to arranging a new round of training courses starting in the autumn.”