The Lower House of the French parliament has voted for an emergency authorisation for use of neonics in beet seed coating.
Although there must also be a vote from France’s Upper House later this month for the authorisation to go ahead, the vote indicates the direction of travel and leaves British growers concerned about being left at a competitive disadvantage.
Use of neonicotinoid seed treatments was banned in sugar beet in 2018, 2019 being the first planting season without them.
Sugar beet grower Tim Beaver, who farms near Stamford, Lincolnshire, says there needs to be a level playing field. “If France is exporting into our market there should either be a higher tariff or we should have access to the same crop inputs. Otherwise France will have production costs 40 per cent lower than us which leaves a very un-level playing field which could have long term consequences.”
A temporary authorisation for UK beet growers would allow time to develop varieties with resistance to virus yellows, he adds. “There is no reliable back-up overnight for the industry.”
A move to a more risk rather than hazard-based approach by the UK government post-Brexit would be welcome, he says. “Beet is not a flowering crop and it has a long rotation so there is not a build-up of neonics in the soil.”
Sugar beet crops have been devastated by virus yellows this season and sugar beet being delivered into British Sugar’s Wissington plant in Norfolk in the first week of October had a sugar content of less than 15 per cent when it would usually be 18-19 per cent, says Mr Beaver. “This is not sustainable. Factories could close and not re-open and once people have stopped growing the crop not many come back.”
A British Sugar spokesperson says there are no plans to close any beet factories.
Peter Watson, agriculture director, British Sugar says: “This year has seen an unprecedented number of aphids, which can carry virus yellows, and a large proportion of the crop has been affected. We expect this to have a significant impact on yields this year.
“We have highlighted the current challenges with Government and are calling for their support for our ‘virus yellows pathway’ to help us tackle the disease both in the immediate future and the longer term.”
The virus yellows pathway includes the virus yellows assurance fund – part of grower contracts, access to sprays, current seed breeding programmes and improved grower practices driven by the BBRO, explains British Sugar.