Now Lincs is hit by new outbreak of rhizomania

12 October 2001

Now Lincs is hit by new outbreak of rhizomania

By FW reporters

A DISEASE likened to the "foot-and-mouth" of sugar beet has triggered fear among arable farmers after it was discovered in a previously virus-free area.

Rhizomania, which causes beet yields to plummet and massive reductions in the sugar content of affected roots, was confirmed on a farm near Sleaford, Lincs. The outbreak is significant because the area is one of the countrys prime beet-growing regions. Previously the soil-borne disease was found mainly in East Anglia.

Cases of rhizomania, which means "root madness", have now risen to 65 this year – almost double the previous record. The surge in outbreaks has thrown into question the future of the UKs disease-free status which will be reviewed by the EU Commission next March.

If disease-free status is lost, imports of seed and ware potatoes, nursery stock and other soil-bearing material would be allowed into the UK from other infected countries. Farmers leaders, who want disease-free status maintained, have warned that whole areas of the country could be devastated.

Geoff Hotchkin, NFU sugar beet delegate for Lincolnshire, said: "If we let the disease go rife as they have in Holland, many regions wont be able to grow beet at all. In many ways it is like foot-and-mouth. Its an economic disease and has big implications for a lot of farmers and a great part of the industry."

Mike Asher, from the Institute of Arable Crop Research, said weather conditions had helped make it an unusually favourable year for the virus. "Growers couldnt get on with drilling until relatively late, so the soil was already quite warm, which is conducive to rhizomania. Its very difficult to identify where it came from."

Growers are being advised to be extra-vigilant. Precautions will be in force at Beet-UK 2001, the countrys premier sugar beet event near Kings Lynn on Wednesday (Oct 17). Organisers, British Sugar, said it would urge visitors to observe restrictions and ensure that vehicles and footwear are clean.

But maintaining protected status could be untenable, said Tony Guthrie, industrial crops manager for Advanta, which breeds rhizomania-resistant varieties. He added: "The disease is really accelerating now. By the end of March DEFRA and the sugar industry [will] have to agree a new plan."

Restrictions limiting disease-tolerant varieties to infected or high-risk farms should be reviewed in parts of Norfolk and Suffolk where rhizomania is virtually endemic, said Mr Guthrie. &#42

"It is possible to continue growing beet in these areas but we need a change of policy to do that."

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