Opinion: Julian Little, head of communications and Government affairs - Crop Science, Bayer UK

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Last month, the European Commission submitted new proposals to a Standing Committee of Plants, Animals, Food and Feed in Brussels to ban all outdoor uses of neonicotinoid seed treatments in non-bee attractive crops, such as wheat, barley, sugar beet and vegetables.


In their explanation, the Commission based their proposals on a potential risk to bees invoking a Bee Guidance document which has not been ratified by Member States.


These proposals arise from the Commission despite the obvious misconclusion; bees do not forage on cereals, sugar beet or vegetables – how could such a ban have any effect on bee health, either positively or negatively?


Clearly one would assume the Commission must have looked at the impact of removing these products on a farmer’s ability to grow a safe, high quality, affordable crop of wheat or barley or sugar beet or indeed fresh vegetables?


Why do farmers use such products and what would they use in their absence? Disappointingly and surprisingly, no such impact assessment has been presented by the Commission in defence of their proposals.

Surprisingly? Because it did not take the industry long to see the top level effects on UK agriculture, just in wheat:


  • Deter is used as a seed treatment in wheat and barley, mainly to control aphids, the major vector involved in the highly damaging barley yellows dwarf virus (BYDV). In the absence of a seed treatment, farmers would need to spray an extra one or two times with a broad spectrum insecticide such as a pyrethroid. Since farmers use Deter to control aphids and BYDV on an area of one million hectares (2.47m acres) in the UK (mainly south of the M4 and east of the A1), it is estimated even more land would receive another insecticide spray it does not have today – an area half the size of Wales.
  • In addition, the extra spraying will use about 220,000 litres of diesel and up to 200 million litres of water.
  • The other main use of Deter is for its ability to ‘deter’ slug attack on the seeds. In the absence of an effective seed treatment, it has been estimated an extra 1,600 tonnes of slug pellets would have to be used, an overall increase of slug pellet use of more than 60 per cent.


These proposals will be discussed at the next Standing Committee meeting this month.


Normally they would be discussed at length, but the Commission has also included in the proposals the possibility of a rapid phase out to come into force next year. The worry is when the UK Government comes to the negotiation table at this meeting, it will disengage from the fight, citing either Brexit or the upcoming General Election.


What can be done about it? Clearly farmers’ concerns must be explained to politicians in Brussels and Westminster who will ultimately make the decision about the use of insecticidal seed treatments. If you are concerned about the loss of these products we would recommend you write a letter or email to your local MP and MEPs.


Or why not invite them to your farm so you can explain the situation to them in person?


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