Defra has rejected an emergency application for growers to use banned neonicotinoid seed treatments on oilseed rape this autumn.
The decision, announced by Defra on Thursday (12 May), will be a major blow to growers in England who rely on neonics to establish OSR in “hotspot” areas – whose crops suffer cabbage stem flea beetle attacks.
The NFU and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) submitted two applications to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for emergency authorisation to allow the use on oilseed rape of Syngenta’s Cruiser OSR and Bayer’s Modesto.
The application was requested to treat a sown area of 195,000ha, which represents 33% of the average OSR cropped area in England in the past two years (591,000ha).
It was based on AHDB data suggesting that over the past two years an average of 33% of the OSR crop grown in England exceeded the guideline threshold level for flea beetle control using post-emergence insecticide sprays, and suffered moderate to severe pest pressure.
The data also suggested that an average of 8.5% of the oilseed rape crop grown in England suffered “high to severe” pest pressure. An average of 2% of the rape crop grown in England was said to suffer “severe” pest pressure.
The NFU and the AHDB pointed out that the only chemical control alternatives were foliar sprays or pyrethroids, and there were now instances of resistance in flea beetle populations to this pesticide group.
A panel of independent advisers to the government, sitting on the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP), reviewed the application last week.
First, while it recognised the potential for damage to crops by flea beetle, it said they did not meet the criteria for an emergency authorisation.
“There is insufficient information to ensure that use will be limited only to those areas where there is a danger or threat to plant protection,” said the ECP in its ruling.
“And the stewardship arrangements proposed by the applicant do not offer adequate assurance that the use will be controlled in an appropriate fashion.”
As a result, based on the evidence and the expert advice, Defra farm minister George Eustice rejected both applications.
Following concerns about their effects on bees, the EU Commission restricted the use of three neonics – thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid – from 1 December 2013.
The commission is set to review the ban and report its findings before the end of 2017.