16 October 1998

Gambit withdrawn while maker sees what went wrong

By Charles Abel

DISCOVERING why new broad-spectrum potato seed treatment Gambit (fenpiclonil) caused severe crop damage in some crops this spring could have implications for other liquid seed treatments too.

Failed emergence and delayed growth prompted manufacturer Novartis to withdraw the product last week until the cause can be identified (News, Oct 9).

Problems affected no more than a handful of growers, maintains Novartis spokesman Andy Piggott. "We have had enquiries representing a lot less than 1% of the national crop and not all those problems were caused by Gambit. But given the value of the crop I think growers will undertsand why we are being so ultra-cautious."

He believes planting conditions played a key role. "February was unusually warm and April was the wettest since 1818, with 222% of the 30-year average rainfall."

Simon Bowen for Anglian Produce agrees the season was significant. "It is clear that Gambit was not the sole factor involved. But we do need to understand what was going on.

"We will think more cautiously in future when using a liquid near planting time, especially where the crop is going into a stress situation, such as desprouting or very wet conditions."

Several AP growers experienced problems this spring, he adds. But crop compensation led to reasonable yields despite up to 30% non-emergence.

For AH Worth agronomist Denis Walsh problems seemed to be linked to using the product immediately pre-planting on mini-chitted seed.

"Where it was applied to seed in trays in the autumn we had no problems. Where it went onto seed from cold storage which had only just opened its eyes we had up to 50% non-emergence."

Given the problems he believes Novartis was right to withdraw the product. "It is not as though we dont have an alternative. We feel Monceren IM may do just as good a job."

David Hudson, agronomist for Sutton Bridge Producer Group, admits the problem is a worry. "We dont know what was happening. In all the years of using liquid seed treatments nobody has ever seen anything like this."

Identical symptoms were also seen, but to a lesser extent, in crops receving other liquid seed treatment fungicides and even some which received no seed treatment, he notes.

Blind tubers, killed chits, very weak single sprouts emerging from the sides of tubers not the rose end and slow emergence were all typical. "Even on sites which were perfect in every other respect there has been up to 30% seed death and a further 10, 15 or 20% of seed not growing vigorously."

Variety seems to have a role, Maris Piper and Saxon suffering most. "Estima seems far more variable, even under identical circumstances. Other varieties seem totally unaffected."

&#8226 Depending upon over-winter test results Gambit could be available for next season, suggests Mr Piggott. "It is our intention to resume sales once tests have been satisfactorily completed."