With OSR drilling complete in many areas, particularly the south and east, and crops emerging well, recent warm temperatures resulted in flurry of flea beetle activity. Farmers across the country have been reporting damage, confirming the worst fears of farming organisations who warned of the unintended consequences of the ban.
He pointed that if farmers respond by growing less oilseed rape, this will impact on bees and other pollinators, which the ban was brought into protect.
Mr Smith said: “Last spring, the NFU were accused by the anti-lobby of hyping the importance of the retention of neonicotinoid seed dressings; but initial reports suggest, if anything, we were underestimating their importance.
“Judging by the evidence from our arable farmer members, it would seem that next year there will be less OSR grown in the UK, and this will no doubt have a negative impact for the country’s agriculture and pollinators.”
He said the NFU’s Healthy Harvest campaign will continue to make it clear to Government how the ban has made growing OSR ‘far more expensive for most farmers and next to impossible for some’.
The ban is also resulting in increased spraying of crops.
Among the farmers to have highlighted the challenges than ban has created is AHDB chairman Peter Kendall, the former NFU president.
He said flea beetle was ‘decimating’ oilseed rape crop on his Bedfordshire farm and estimates 20 per cent of the crop has been lost.
Frontier agronomist Andrew Havergal, who advises growers across Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, said flea beetle numbers have risen rapidly over the past week or so.
He said: “This year we have had to be extra vigilant and at first signs of damage growers need to go and spray. We cannot afford to wait; the crops are not big enough to sustain damage.”
Some of Mr Havergal’s customers have already applied their first insecticide and may be forced to spray again.
These include Essex farm manager Ian Gibson, who reported flea beetle was affecting ‘close to 50 per cent’ of his OSR and was already contemplating spraying for the second time this autumn.
The picture is further complicated by resistance to pyrethroid sprays in the UK flea beetle population.