8 January 1999

Beet research at risk after council No

RESEARCH to improve sugar beet production is in jeopardy, following a decision by industry leaders to forego a development council, along the lines of the British Potato Council.

The move from grower and processor leaders was prompted by the governments intention to wind up the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee on Mar 30 and end the statutory levy system next year.

Agriculture minister Jeff Rooker says the ministry will liaise closely with the industry to minimise disruption of the current £2.2m/yr research programme.

But the stumbling block of ensuring everyone likely to benefit from future research pays for it after the statutory arrangements lapse in April 2000 remains. A development council would permit a mandatory levy, admits the NFUs sugar beet committee chairman Matt Twidale.

"But we, British Sugar and the NFU, reckon a development council is too cumbersome. What we feel is needed is a slimmed down SBREC." Discussions with MAFF lawyers are under way to see how best to proceed.

Currently MAFF acts as research secretariat and bears most of the costs, he explains. In future all charges would have to come out of the research fund pot.

BS deputy managing director Clive Francis believes a joint industry body, but not a full-blown development council, is the most cost-effective way ahead. "All we are looking for is a vehicle to maintain continuity."

Acting SBREC chairman and Lincs farmer David Carmichael reckons a development council would absorb 10-15% of the relatively small research budget. "Industry would regard that as excessive. We should be able to do it for 3-4%."

Mike May of IACR-Brooms Barn agrees. "I expect that if they run a tight ship the secretariat would probably not cost a lot more than at present."

Unlike other crops, such as cereals, the lack of a levy system would mean no independent research on the crop, warns Mr May.

Beet research

&#8226 Statutory levy ends April 2000.

&#8226 SBREC replacement needed.

&#8226 Development council inappropriate.

&#8226 Key funding questions.

BEETRESEARCH

&#8226 Statutory levy ends April 2000.

&#8226 SBREC replacement needed.

&#8226 Development council inappropriate.

&#8226 Key funding questions.

Another step forward for GM crops in field

By Charles Abel

GENETICALLY modified crops are a step closer to UK commercialisation following a positive outcome to the governments scientific review of herbicide use in tolerant crops. Field-scale production could start this spring.

"We are pleased with the positive tone," notes Roger Turner, chairman of the British Society of Plant Breeders and the industrys Supply Chain Initiative on Modified Agricultural Crops.

Compared with existing weed control strategies herbicide tolerant varieties will allow simpler programmes to control larger weeds, later in the season, the report notes.

Two or three total herbicide sprays, possibly with a selective product for problem weeds, are likely to suffice, it says. Control of annual weeds will be equivalent or slightly better than now, while some perennial weeds will become easier to control.

GMHT varieties will also allow herbicide use to be delayed several weeks, which could bring environmental benefits, it notes. More annual broad-leaved weeds could be left in cereals, minimal establishment could be adopted more widely and more weeds could be left in stubbles, it says.

The potential impact on wildlife through changes in the diversity of weed species within crop fields is so far unclear, the report states. Indeed, biodiversity is currently poorly understood in conventional arable crops, it adds.

As such it calls for further research to investigate the positive or negative wildlife impacts which could arise from different herbicide policies in GMHT crops.

While research has begun into some aspects, a phased, monitored introduction of GMHT crops into the UK would allow weed control practices which favour biodiversity to be tested and environmental effects to be monitored closely, the report continues.

SCIMAC submitted refined proposals for regulating such field-scale production to government before Christmas. They included independent auditing of a contracts system similar to that used for seed production, but with a more rigorous code of practice, detailed guidelines and third party auditing, Dr Turner explains.

A government response is now hoped for in time for field-scale GMHT crop plantings this spring, a year earlier than anticipated. "We are getting pretty close," says Dr Turner.

A meeting scheduled for later this month should decide the areas involved, he says.

GMHT THUMBS UP

&#8226 Simpler, later weed control.

&#8226 Possible wildlife benefits.

&#8226 Scope for some weeds to be left, more minimal cultivations and weedier stubbles.

&#8226 Commercial-scale trials this spring?

&#8226 Government decision late January.

GMHTTHUMBSUP

&#8226 Simpler, later weed control.

&#8226 Possible wildlife benefits.

&#8226 Scope for some weeds to be left, more minimal cultivations and weedier stubbles.

&#8226 Commercial-scale trials this spring?

&#8226 Government decision expected in late January.

New ACCSdeadline

FARMERS wanting to join the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme before harvest 1999 still have time to join. The original Dec 31 deadline has been extended to Feb 28.

The move follows a huge pre-Christmas demand for registration forms, explains scheme chairman Jonathan Tipples of the NFU. "Following the announcements last December by Allied Mills and others about sourcing assured produce we had over 13,000 requests for registration packs and simply ran out. To give all those producers who requested packs a chance to register it was only fair that we extend the deadline."

Last year 9000 packs were requested and 5000 producers registered. At least 5000 more registrations are expected this year. "Provided we know in time we will be able to get them all verified before harvest. But with a third of last years members being revisited this year too it will be a heavy workload," says Mr Tipples. Further verifiers may need recruiting, he notes.

Seizing the opportunity to drill after frost. Here, Richard Norman of Philip Matthews Contractors, Chesham, Bucks, sows Charger winter wheat at Bury Farm, Great Missenden, Bucks. Elsewhere in the country, wet conditions

continue to hinder progress.

Strob mixing inadvisable

TANK-MIXING strobilurin fungicides can lead to disappointment, claims a national distributor.

Dalgety Arables warning follows trials at Throws Farm, Essex which showed a 50:50 mix of Amistar (azoxystrobin) and Mantra (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph) applied to winter barley at first node (GS31) produced 0.7t/ha (0.3t/acre) less yield than a single 100% dose of Mantra.

"This result clearly demonstrates the antagonisms in action when the two strobilurins are mixed," says technical manager Bob Bulmer. "Logically you would think they are complementary. In practice they are not."

About 20,000ha (50,000 acres) were treated with azoxystrobin/kresoxim-methyl mixtures last year, he estimates. "That is 5% of the total kresoxim-methyl area, and I would welcome a reduction in this proportion."

Fungicide shortages may have tempted growers to mix the two products, suggests Tony Grayburn for Mantra maker BASF. "Its not a good idea. It adds nothing. There is no biological advantage from mixing the two either."

Zenecas Peter Froggatt agrees that mixing strobilurins is unlikely to be beneficial, though he has no direct evidence to back that view. Growers seeking to reinforce Amistar would be better off sticking to straight morpholines or triazoles, he believes.