Farmers in limited parts of the country will be able use neonicotinoid seed treatments this autumn after the Government accepted an emergency application by the NFU.
The NFU has secured the emergency use of neonicotinoid seed treatments this autumn over a limited area of around 30,000ha where the pest cabbage stem flea beetle poses the biggest threat.
Following a second submission by the NFU to the Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD), the Government has agreed to allow farmers to use neonicotinoid seeds over five per cent of the oilseed rape (OSR) crop.
The emergency use has been granted for 120 days for two products, Bayer’s Modesto and Syngenta’s Cruiser OSR.
The precise location of where the treated seeds will be allowed this autumn has not been confirmed but it is likely to be focused in the east of England where monitoring indicated autumn sowing would be under greatest threat from flea beetle.
Discussions on the logistics of distributing the seed are underway, the NFU said.
The NFU’s previous application, submitted in May, was rejected after the CRD considered it was not sufficiently limited to certain parts of the country or sufficiently controlled.
While the belated authorisation is a victory for the NFU, particularly after an application last year by Syngenta was rejected partly on political grounds, the union has expressed frustration at the limited nature of its scope.
NFU vice president Guy Smith, who had criticised the ’painful and prolonged nature of the original application process, said: “The NFU has worked relentlessly to submit a robust application and we’re glad to finally see a positive result.
“However, we know that this isn’t enough – flea beetle threat is widespread problem on a national scale and the extremely limited nature of this authorisation is not going to help many farmers in need of the protection.
“We will ensure that this approval is made the most of, both logistically and through the detailed monitoring of the crop for useful data.
“We will also call on Defra to contribute to solutions for the many farmers whose crops are significantly threatened by flea beetle outside of the area permitted for the use of these products.”
The delay in getting a decision has imposed significant time pressure on the process. Initially, 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.
NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said: “The Government has recognised the problem and has given a restricted number of farmers a solution, which is better than no solution at all.
“We will now look to work with the regulators towards more efficient authorisations after the arduous process we have been through to get to this point.”
Crop Protection Association CEO Nick von Westenholz said: “Whilst we will wait to see the detail of the emergency use approval we are pleased to see that the government has recognised the important role these products play in controlling pests in oilseed rape by granting a derogation.
“Nevertheless, it is disappointing that, due to the late timing of the decision and the limitations of the derogation, many farmers will still be unable to access this vital technology and will continue to struggle to protect their crops this coming season.
“The CPA will continue to press for evidence-based regulation, rather than an over-precautionary approach which denies farmers the use of vital tools because of theoretical and unrealistic threats rather than actual risks.”
Friends of the Earth bees campaigner Paul de Zylva said it was ’scandalous’ that the Government has caved in to NFU pressure. He said it given permission for some farmers to use banned pesticides that have been shown to harm our precious bees.
“Ever more scientific evidence shows just how dangerous these chemicals are to bees and other pollinators - they should have no place in our fields and gardens," he said.
“The NFU’s campaign to undermine the pesticides ban has given an impression of large crop losses nationwide, but this is not supported either by the scientific evidence or harvest figures.
“It’s completely unacceptable for the Government to refuse to make the NFU’s application publicly available - and it even asked its own independent advisors not to publish the minutes and agenda of key meetings.
"The secrecy around this application will only fuel the public’s mistrust of Government policy on pesticides.”
A Defra spokesman said: "We have fully applied the precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoids introduced by the EU, and we make decisions on pesticides based on the science only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment.
“Based on the evidence, we have followed the advice of the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides and our Chief Scientist that a limited emergency authorisation of two pesticides requested by farmers should be granted in areas where oil rape crops are at greatest risk of pest damage.”