Farmers need cash to move away from neonics, ministers told

The government has been asked to provide cash support for sugar beet farmers struggling with virus yellows, rather than issue temporary authorisations to use neonicotinoids.

Two weeks ago, the government gave permission for the seed treatment thiamethoxam to be used if modelling predicts a yellow virus incidence of 63% or above, with the forecast due on 1 March.

The derogation was granted despite the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides advising that the potential adverse effects to pollinators would outweigh the likely benefits.

See also: Emergency neonicotinoid use on sugar beet approved in England

But Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Gideon Henderson, said certain risks, such as those posed to bees foraging from flowering crops planted after treated sugar beet, could be mitigated by introducing a 32-month minimum period between the two crops.  

Speaking during a parliamentary debate last week, former Labour shadow Defra secretary Luke Pollard, who is opposed to the authorisation, said: “If ministers are serious about neonics use being temporary and exceptional, I want the government to provide more support for sugar beet farmers, so they can invest in other reasonable control measures, such as the greater use of integrated pest management.

“The withdrawal from the EU, the change in subsidy regimes and the fact it is now harder to export have hit our farmers hard, so we need to find support for them.

“While critiquing the government’s authorisation of bee-killing pesticides, I want to lend my support to those beet farmers who, I recognise, face financial hardship if there is an aphid-spread infection in their crops.”

In his response to the debate, farming minister Mark Spencer did not acknowledge Mr Pollard’s call.

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