Farmers can use banned pesticide to combat sugar beet virus

Sugar beet harvesting in Bale. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Sugar beet harvesting in Bale. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

East Anglia's sugar beet growers have been granted an emergency authorisation for the "limited and controlled" use of a banned pesticide to save disease-ravaged crops.

Following severe crop damage from virus yellows disease, the National Farmers' Union (NFU) submitted an application for the temporary use of neonicotinoids - seed treatments banned in 2019 due to fears over their impact on the health of bees and pollinators.

The chemicals were previous used to control virus-carrying aphids, which have since infected sugar beet fields and pose a significant potential danger to the 2021 crop.

The government issued a statement which says the "special circumstances" met the legal requirements for a temporary emergency derogation, and approved the chemical for use in 2021 on England's sugar beet - much of which is grown in Norfolk and Suffolk.

It says as sugar beet is a non-flowering plant, the risk to bees from the crop itself is "acceptable", while herbicides must be used to kill flowering weeds in and around the crop.

Other restrictions include that no flowering crop is to be planted within 22 months of the sugar beet crop, and no oilseed rape crop is to be planted within 32 months.

Farmer Kit Papworth @farmerkit shares his Twitter tips

North Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth is a member of the NFU's sugar board - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2008

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North Norfolk farmer Kit Papworth, a member of the NFU's sugar board, said it was "really good news" for worried beet growers.

"We all have environmental concerns, which is why there are so many safeguards," he said.

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"This is for incredibly limited usage with a huge amount of restrictions, which might put some growers off.

"But it is really good news for sugar beet growers, the crop is not sustainable without it."

British Sugar managing director Paul Kenward added: "Very happy to see such a good decision based on an application with significant safeguards for a non-flowering crop."

However, the decision was met with dismay from environmental campaigners including author and environmentalist George Monbiot, who last month accused the NFU of "secretive lobbying" to gain the authorisation.

He tweeted: "There's a vast scientific literature showing how neonicotinoid seed treatments enter the ecosystem, affecting a wide range of species.

"It is outrageous that, in response to NFU and industrial lobbying, the government has allowed these poisons to be spread."

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