Rhizomania case sparks new fears

10 October 2001

Rhizomania case sparks new fears

By Tom Allen-Stevens

RHIZOMANIA, the devastating sugar-beet disease, has been confirmed in a previously virus-free area, sparking new fears for arable farmers.

The outbreak, in the Sleaford area of Lincolnshire, brings the number of rhizomania cases to 65 this year – almost double the previous record.

Rhizomania, which means “root madness”, causes beet yields to plummet and massive reductions in the sugar content of affected roots.

The Lincolnshire outbreak is significant because the area is one of the countrys prime sugar-beet growing regions.

Previously the soil-borne disease was found mainly in East Anglia. But the future of the UKs disease-free status could now be in question.

The European Commission is due to review the situation next March.

Losing protected status would have implications for imports of seed and ware potatoes, nursery stock and other soil-bearing material.

At the moment, seeds and stock which are imported into the UK must be from officially designated rhizomania-free areas.

But if UK protected status is lost, restrictions would be lifted, triggering the possibility that contaminated imports could come into the country.

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 showing up.

“It takes 10-15 years from the introduction of the virus for its symptoms to show, so its very difficult to identify where it came from.”

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

Last year, just 13 new cases of rhizomania were confirmed.


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