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Permission for growers to use specially treated sugar beet seed to combat virus yellows this spring will help secure a future for the crop,... Seed treatment will help secure future for sugar beet growers

Permission for growers to use specially treated sugar beet seed to combat virus yellows this spring will help secure a future for the crop, say farm leaders.

An emergency application for farmers to use neonicotinoid treated Cruiser SB seed was granted by Defra secretary George Eustice last month. It follows a devastating season during which many crops were devastated by virus yellows.

Similar permission has been granted for growers in other European countries. Neonicotinoid treated seed can now be used as long as strict conditions are met – despite concern that the chemicals are harmful to bees and other pollinators.

Defra said it granted permission because sugar beet yields were significantly reduced in the 2020 season due to virus yellows. Similar conditions in 2021 would be likely to present similar dangers, it warned. Sugar beet was a non-flowering crop and the risks to bees from the crop itself were acceptable.

Limited usage

Mr Eustice concluded that in relation to the requirements for emergency authorisation the case for need had been met, that the use of the product would be limited and controlled, and that the potential benefit from the use of the product outweighed any environmental risks.

Conditions attached to the emergency authorisation include the requirement that no flowering crops are planted as following crops for a period of at least 22 months – with an extended period of exclusion for oilseed rape of 32 months.

The application was made by NFU Sugar and British Sugar.

NFU Sugar chairman Michael Sly said: “Any treatment will be used in a limited and controlled way on sugar beet, a non-flowering crop, and only when the scientific threshold has been independently judged to have been met.”

Fight continues

Virus yellows disease is having an unprecedented impact on Britain’s sugar beet crop, with yield losses of up to 80%. “This authorisation is desperately needed to fight this disease. It will be crucial in ensuring that Britain’s sugar beet growers continue to have viable farm businesses.”

British Sugar agriculture director Peter Watson said neonicotinoid seed treatment would help growers tackle virus yellows disease this year while a longer-term solution is sought. This includes sugar beet seed bred to be resistant to the disease.

Mr Watson said: “The situation faced by growers has been unprecedented and this application was a last resort. While there will be restrictions for the following crop, the treatment will be able to be used in a limited and controlled way when high aphid conditions are expected.

 “We are continuing our work as an industry to tackle virus yellows in the medium and long term, including through seed breeding programmes.”