26 October 2001

Rhizo – it can be contained

Rhizomania and British

Sugars vision of the crops

future were key themes at a

sun-soaked Beet UK event

near Kings Lynn, Norfolk.

Charles Abel reports.

Machinery coverage on p69

HAVE this years 69 new rhizomania cases killed all hope of the UK retaining its rhizomania-free status? That was a key question at Beet UK last week.

With so many new cases and the disease moving into new areas, including Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, many fear the EU could overturn that status and end the containment policy next March.

But British Sugar, the NFU and independent experts believe the containment policy can and should continue. "Our goal is to convince DEFRA that it is working and we believe we can," says Newmarket-based NFU policy adviser Sandra Nichols.

Disease expert Mike Asher of IACR Brooms Barn agrees. "This has been a very favourable year and there is no reason to expect new cases to continue at this level."

The long-term picture shows the UK is keeping the disease at bay. The total area of infected land is just 7000ha (17,290 acres), representing 1% of the beet area. By contrast Holland is almost 100% infected and France and Germany 50% infected, with new cases in France claiming 120,000ha (29,640 acres) each year.

New rhizomania-tolerant variety Concept, which moved on to the recommended list last year, offers good yield protection, Dr Asher admits. But that is not enough to allow a relaxation of the containment policy. "It would mean too much resting on one variety which has only been evaluated in trials."

Losing rhizomania-free status would hit other sectors too, including exports of seed potatoes and transplant stock to non-rhizomania countries, he says. "It affects more than just sugar beet."

British Sugar operations director Karl Carter fears DEFRA is looking to cut costs and may use the tolerant variety argument to back its position. But the industrys efficiency could suffer, leaving UK quota vulnerable to EU cuts, he says.

"Tolerant varieties are all right and some perform very well. But if rhizomania becomes widespread now, yield will almost certainly fall, which is why we are pressing to keep the containment policy. For each 1% yield loss, growers lose £1.5m."

The absence of any DEFRA staff or ministers from Beet UK demonstrates the attitude of policy makers to the sugar crop, notes NFU sugar beet committee chairman, Matt Twidale.

How much the compensation levy will need increasing this year will not be clear until DEFRAs Plant Health Inspectorate confirms the area of crop affected, notes Helen Kirkman, chief sugar beet adviser at the NFU.

British Sugar wants 20% more yield at 20% less cost. Unless rhizomania is contained that will be a big challenge, agree NFU regional policy adviser Sandra Nichols and IACR Brooms Barn scientist Mike Asher.

BEET UK HEADLINES

&#8226 BS 20:20 Vision – 20% more yield, 20% lower growing costs in five years.

&#8226 Guard EBA concessions.

&#8226 Leave headlands unplanted.

&#8226 Rhizo status set to change?

&#8226 New NFU web-site.

&#8226 Organic beet on schedule.

&#8226 700,000t quota traded.

&#8226 120 new growers, 1300 outgoers.

NFU beet web-site

Web-connected growers can now find out more about sugar beet issues, talk to other growers and let the NFU know what they think on key topics through a web-site launched at Beet UK. Visitors to www.nfunet.org.uk can register with the free site using their contract details.