Record rhizo worries sugar industry

9 October 2001

Record rhizo worries sugar industry

By Tom Allen-Stevens

A RECORD number of new rhizomania cases have been recorded this year, which could throw into question the future of the UKs disease-free status.

The Governments Plant Health Unit at its laboratories in York has confirmed 65 new cases, FWi was told on Tuesday (9 October).

This is almost double the previous record of 33 and brings the total number of farms infected with the soil-borne sugar beet virus to well over 208.

Mike Asher, from IACRs sugar beet research station at Brooms Barn, believes that it has been an unusually favourable year for the disease.

Growers couldnt get on with planting until relatively late, so the soil was quite warm, which is conducive to rhizomania showing up.

The rapid rise could mean the UK will be forced to end its rhizomania protected zone status, up for review by the European Commission in March 2002.

Ending the protected status would have implications for sugar beet imports and could lead to the disease becoming more widespread.

But British Sugars John Prince believes this is highly unlikely: The disease is still at a very low level in the UK with just 2-3% of the sugar beet area infected.

This compares with about half the French and German area while in Holland it is endemic.

To keep the protected zone status, a strict policy of containment has been followed where cases have been recorded, he says.

Well over 60% of the tonnage that was grown on infected farms has been moved to non-infected areas and we are encouraging the uptake of tolerant varieties.

Given the stewardship guidelines and the very low level of infection, we have every likelihood of continuing with the current policy, he said.

Dr Asher echoes this and does not expect the high number of new cases to continue next year, given favourable planting conditions.

Its more important growers have the freedom to plant high-yielding varieties than to have to restrict themselves to just the one that is resistant to rhizomania.

Growers in infected areas are advised to be extra-vigilant during harvest and ensure contractors equipment is cleaned and disinfected between farms.

All this years new cases were found in areas where rhizomania has already been recorded and all were exclusive to light soil types.

Last year, just 13 new cases were confirmed, including one in the West Midlands.


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