Farmers are dismayed by Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove’s announcement that he backs a ban on use of neonicotinoids on all field crops, saying the proposal is not based on science and will lead to increased used of insecticides potentially more harmful to bees.
Currently, use of neonicotinoids is banned for oilseed rape, linseed and spring cereals, but they can be used to treat sugar beet and as seed treatments for winter cereals.
Should neonicotinoids be banned on field crops, the UK would have the right to consider emergency authorisations but Defra said: “We would only do so in exceptional circumstances where there is a real need for the products and the risk to bees and other pollinators is sufficiently low.”
Reacting to the announcement, sugar beet grower, Andrew Blenkiron, estate director at Suffolk-based Euston Estate, said: “It is incredibly disappointing to hear he [Michael Gove] is going against what good science indicates which is that there is no issue with neonics and non-flowering crops. It makes me full of fear for the future.”
A ban on neonicotinoid seed dressings, which protect sugar beet from peach potato aphids, the vector for beet virus yellows and soil borne pests, would have a significant impact on yields, believes Mr Blenkiron.
“There are indications we could lose up to 20% of yield in that crop. Sugar beet is one of the success stories of crops in the UK with yield increasing year on year for the last 20 years, some on the back of being able to use some of these chemicals.
“We are always being criticised for our poor levels of productivity compared with Europe then we are faced with something like this. It will throw the viability of the crop into question if we lose 20%.”
Kit Papworth, who contract farms in Norfolk growing crops including winter cereals and sugar beet said: “It is political. I’m surprised there hasn’t been further consultation. It will have an impact on the way we do business, increasing cost. There are ways around this and we will deal with it but unfortunately it’s another hurdle we’ve got to cross and another increase in costs.”
Mark Wood, farm manager at JPF Clay Farms, Fawley Court Farm, Fawley, Herefordshire said he has had to increase use of insecticides in oilseed rape since neonicotinoid seed treatments were banned in this crop. “It has meant extra use of non-discriminate insecticides rather than targeted insecticides seed treatments allow us to use.
“We have to use two pyrethroid insecticide sprays to control flea beetle which are known to harm bees and we have to watch the timing, rather than a targeted seed treatment.”
Bayer which manufactures seed treatment Deter, based on neonicotinoid, clothianidin, reacted strongly to the news. Spokesperson, Dr Julian Little, said: “We do know from talking to farmers that such a ban would seriously impact the UK’s ability to grow high quality wheat, barley, sugar beet and some vegetable crops, just as UK farmers are trying to gear up to life after European subsidies.
“Farmers will have to resort to older chemical sprays to control damaging insect pests rather than the targeted seed treatments currently employed, and will have to use much larger quantities of slug pellets, just at the time when we are trying to reduce their use.
“Today’s decision is therefore a kick in the teeth for UK agriculture: it makes farmers less competitive, it means less environmentally friendly chemicals being used in the countryside, it means no improvement in the lot of bees or other pollinators, and it says to the green lobby that if you make enough noise, you can trump evidence-based policy making.”