News review 2014: Policies hitting farmers hard

OSR devastated by flea beetle in wake of neonics ban

Thousands of acres of emerging oilseed rape crops were destroyed by flea beetle following the EU ban on neonicotinoid pesticides.

This autumn provided the first test for farmers looking to grow oilseed rape without neonicotinoid seed dressings for a number of years.

According to an HGCA assessment, about 17,000ha of winter OSR crops were lost due to cabbage stem flea beetle damage. This figure represented about 3.2% of all winter OSR crops across England and Scotland.

Cambridgeshire grower Robert Law suffered a “momentous struggle” to get crops to establish and survive this autumn.

Mr Law said he had to pull the plug on 75% of his OSR acreage in November.

Despite treating his rape crops seven times with alternative chemistry and redrilling failed areas, the crop still failed. “Even where we had satisfactorily redrilled, two days later it had been grazed right off on one field,” said Mr Law.

The EU Commission banned the use of three neonicotinoids on flowering crops such as oilseed rape and sunflowers in December 2013 for at least two years after laboratory studies linked them to a decline in bees.

The ban meant farmers resorted to multiple sprays of older chemistry, such as pyrethroids, with potentially worse environmental impact on bees.

The NFU said widespread flea beetle damage showed policymakers widely underestimated the effects of the restriction. It called for an urgent review of the emerging evidence showing the damaging effects of neonicotinoid restrictions on crops.

In September, it emerged that researchers were planning to carry out major field studies in the UK, Germany and Hungary to investigate the effects of neonicotinoids on bees. The neonicotinoids to be tested are clothianidin from Bayer CropScience and Syngenta’s thiamethoxam. Trial plots will be harvested in 2015.

Bovine TB heartbreak continues

Bovine TB continued to bring financial and emotional misery to many farmers across the country.

The devastating effect of the disease was laid bare in an emotional video that showed TB-infected cattle being shot dead at beef farmer David Barton’s farm in Middle Duntisbourne, Gloucestershire.

In the video, Mr Barton is pictured turning his head away and closing his eyes as four of his herd, including an 11-year-old breeding bull, Ernie, were killed.

The animals tested positive during a routine six-monthly TB test of 160 head of cattle at the farm in April.

Earlier in the year, the NFU said farmers would be left “bitterly disappointed” over the government’s decision not to roll out the pilot badger culls to other areas.

Former Defra secretary Owen Paterson put on hold plans to widen the cull to other parts of the country after an independent report criticised the current projects in the South West as being neither humane nor effective.

However, the second year of pilot badger culls took place in Somerset and Gloucestershire against the backdrop of intimidation by some opponents of the policy.

The Humane Society International UK claimed 253 badgers were removed in Gloucestershire – 362 animals short of the minimum kill target of 615. While in Somerset, it said marksmen only just achieved the minimum target of 315.

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