The CPMP is the culmination of a year's work by farming unions in collaboration with more than a dozen organisations, green groups and water chiefs. The farming industry hopes the plan, which was successfully trialled by farmers in January, will be in use on almost 500,000 acres of land by the end of next year.

NFU vice president Michael Paske said at the launch: 'This document provides farmers and growers with a blueprint from which to develop a personalised management plan, based on best practice, that puts the environment at the heart of crop protection on the farm.' He added of the benefits of the plan: 'Attention will be drawn to aspects of environmental importance not previously considered before in any depth.' The plan offers advice on the use, storage and disposal of crop protection products for the benefit of water and wildlife. CPMPs are an important element of the Voluntary Initiative, a proactive programme of measures put forward by the industry - and approved by Defra - as an alternative to a pesticides tax.

Lord Whitty said: 'Reducing the negative impacts of pesticide use is an important part of delivering both sustainable agriculture, as set out in the government's strategy for sustainable farming and food, and the high standards of countryside management that the public demands from the farming industry. CPMPs can be an invaluable tool to help the industry achieve that aim and I urge farmers to take advantage of them.' He continued: 'Safety must come first, but wherever possible we want to ensure farmers have all the tools they need for effective crop production. I am very pleased to see the number of differing organisations that have bought into the Voluntary Initiative.

'What we want to see now is all farmers and growers getting behind this initiative. My congratulations go to everyone who has helped make this possible.' Sue Armstrong Brown, head of agriculture policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, added: 'We know that pesticides have brought us sophisticated agriculture but that has come at a cost, and all too often that cost is met by the environment. We need to get high and meaningful uptake of the CPMPs in the next year. If we do this we will see significant and tangible benefits for the environment.' Paske concluded: 'Farmers and growers understand the importance of their green credentials. Encouraging farmers to buy into greener practices has to be the way forward rather than just taxing the industry out of existence.'