A second set of applications for emergency use of neonicotinoid seeds could yet bring relief for some oilseed rape growers this autumn, according to NFU vice president Guy Smith.
Although he acknowledged time is running out after the NFU made further applications to the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) for the emergency use of neonicotinoid seed treatments for areas under the highest threat of flea beetle damage for autumn drilling.
The current applications are much narrower in scope than the NFU’s previous applications, which were rejected after what Mr Smith described as a ‘painful and prolonged’ process.
Submitted by the NFU in May, they were not considered by the CRD to be either sufficiently limited to certain parts of the country or sufficiently controlled.
The NFU and Syngenta identified the end of June as a cut-off point to get a positive decision in time for seeds to be treated and distributed for autumn drilling.
Mr Smith called for an ‘urgent’ decision from Defra and CRD given these obvious time-constraints.
"The CRD’s application process has put us in a position where treatment and distribution of the seed may not make it in time for drilling,” he acknowledged.
“We realise that the use applied for isn’t as wide as is needed; flea beetle has devastated many crops across the country and we have limited foresight of where the pest will emerge next season.
“But we hope by making this second round of applications, we can provide relief from the pest for at least some farmers.
“It should demonstrate in field why neonicotinoid seed dressings are so important when it comes to establishing vigorous crops of oilseed rape.”
NFU crops board chairman Mike Hambly said: “We are very aware of the threat of flea beetle attack on oilseed rape crops being a widespread problem across the country.
“Neonicotinoid seed dressing has been an effective and targeted way of protecting crops from this.
“Without this treatment, growing one of the most important crops in the UK sustainably is becoming nearly impossible for many farmers and many are using older products which the pest is increasingly resistant to.”
He pointed to research by Rothamsted Research and HGCA showing average resistance of 58.8 per cent to pyrethroid plant protection products, which farmers are now increasingly using, in cabbage stem flea beetle.
Neonicotinoids are currently banned in the EU because of concerns over their impact on bee health.
Farmers in Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria have been successful in securing emergency use of neonicotinoid seed treatments.
After the initial application was rejected, a Defra spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to ensuring pesticides are available when the regulators are satisfied and the scientific evidence shows they are safe to people and the environment.”