Eustice leaves door open for neonics on sugar beet

Farm minister George Eustice has said Defra would be willing to consider another application for the emergency authorisation of neonicotinoid usage in sugar beet.

Speaking at a Parliamentary event, hosted by British Sugar, he acknowledged that it had already been a very difficult season for beet growers.

He said: “We have had an incredibly challenging growing season with a late spring making it very difficult to drill crops, and obviously the summer drought affecting yields, and I know that typically yields are down by about 20% on last year, although last year was a record.”

See also: Defra rejects plea for exemption to ban on neonics on sugar beet seed

He also acknowledged that the recent refusal of an emergency authorisation for neonicotinoid usage in next season’s crop would be hard for growers.

“I am aware that the decision we have had to take as a government on the emergency authorisation on neonicotinoids will not be welcome and is seen as something of a blow by sugar growers. It is a difficult scenario.

“We have an expert committee on pesticides and they have analysed the application [for the emergency authorisation] and looked at all the data – in particular the impacts on birds and mammals and the possible impacts on soils,” he said.

Three criteria

The application had to satisfy three criteria and Mr Eustice said that only one requirement had not been met.

“We would be open to considering an additional one [application] if the final remaining obstacles could be addressed,” he said.

Neonicotinoid seed coatings protect sugar beet crops by killing aphids, which carry damaging viruses from plant to plant.

Trial work conducted by the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) show that Beet Mild Yellowing Virus can cause yield losses per plant of up to 30% and Beet Yellows Virus can cause losses of up to 47%.

Field losses are likely to be lower than this as not all plants in a field would be affected to the same level.

Difficult year

British Sugar’s managing director Paul Kenward said that it had been a “really difficult year” for the sugar industry after they were hit by the sugar tax in April; a global fall in sugar prices; bad weather; and the removal of neonicotinoids.

Mr Kenward said that it was too early to give a yield forecast, but added there was no expectation that they would match last year’s crop as early liftings had been extremely variable.

Both British Sugar and the NFU said they were still reviewing in detail the decision made by the government and could not comment on whether they would submit an additional application until the process had been completed.