Farmers win emergency approval to use controversial pesticide on sugar beet

Fenland farmer and NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly says the emergency approval of Biscaya pesti

Fenland farmer and NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly says the emergency approval of Biscaya pesticide will help combat a high risk of virus yellows this spring. Picture: NFU / Tim Scrivener - Credit: NFU / Tim Scrivener

Sugar beet growers have won an emergency authorisation to use a soon-to-be-banned pesticide to protect their crops against “very significant disease challenges” this spring.

Biscaya is an insecticide spray used to kill aphids and beetles which can spread crop diseases. Its active ingredient is one of the neonicotinoid group of agro-chemicals which are being outlawed by the EU due to concerns over their impact on the health of bees.

The pesticide is being phased out for UK crops including potatoes, oilseed rape, cabbages and beans – but it was not licensed for use on sugar beet, whose growers felt it could help in the battle against the destructive crop infection of virus yellows.

Farmers said there is a heightened infection risk this year after a mild winter, and in the absence of already-banned neonicotinoid seed treatments.

So British Sugar and the National Farmers’ Union’s Sugar Board (NFU Sugar), supported by the Norwich-based British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), have secured an emergency authorisation from Defra to use Biscaya on sugar beet this spring.

Fenland farmer and NFU Sugar board chairman Michael Sly said: “We are very relieved to have been given this approval as the UK sugar beet crop faces very significant disease challenges this year from virus yellows. The Rothamsted Virus Yellows incidence forecast a very high risk to the crop this year due to the very mild winter, with little frost. This emergency authorisation will help to provide growers with some protection against the virus yellows threat in a limited and targeted way.”

Biscaya is now available for use on sugar beet between April 2 and July 31 and can be applied via two lower-rate applications. For full details and conditions of the authorisation, see the BBRO website.

Meanwhile, growers of other crops have 10 months left to use Biscaya before it is banned – which has previously been a key part of their strategies to tackle costly pests.

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The chemical, made by Bayer, is licensed for controlling aphids and beetles in crops including broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, parsnip, peas, field beans, potato and oilseed rape.

But following an EU decision not to renew approval for its active ingredient thiacloprid in January, the Chemicals Regulation Division (CRD) confirmed that farmers will no longer be able to buy thiacloprid-containing products after August 3 – and they have until February 3, 2021 to use up any remaining stocks.