Emergency neonic seed treatment approved to protect sugar beet crop

Defra has approved an emergency temporary authorisation for the use of a neonicotinoid pesticide treatment to this year’s sugar beet crop, due to the risk from yellows viruses.

The decision has been welcomed by British Sugar, which applied for the emergency authorisation, should it be required, subject to the outcome of the Rothamstead Virus Yellows model on 1st March 2023.

Emerging sugar beet seedlings are vulnerable to predation from aphids with the potential to spread beet yellows virus, severely impacting yield and quality.

In 2020, 25% of the national sugar beet crop was lost, equating to economic losses of £67 million.

Application of a neonicotinoid seed treatment will only be permitted if independent modelling predicts a virus incidence of 63% or above. If the virus threshold is not met, then the neonicotinoid treated seed will not be used.

If the threshold is met, further strict conditions will apply to minimise risks to the environment. This includes a maximum number of seeds planted per hectare and restrictions on farmers planting flowering crops in subsequent years in any field where treated seed has been used, which allows time for the chemical to break down.

Farming minister Mark Spencer said the decision “has not been taken lightly and is based on extensive and rigorous scientific assessment”.

Emergency authorisations for pesticides are granted for a short time period only, in situations where there is a danger that cannot be controlled by other reasonable means. Their use is limited and controlled.

The overall ban on the use of neonicotinoids remains in place.

Mr Spencer said: “We recognise the potential danger of an outbreak of the beet yellows virus on the nation’s sugar beet crop and the impact it could have on the production of UK sugar. Therefore, after careful consideration, we regard issuing an emergency authorisation as a necessary measure to protect the industry.”

British Sugar said in a statement: ‘We welcome Defra’s decision to approve our joint application for the emergency usage of a neonicotinoid seed treatment in 2023, should it be required, subject to the outcome of the Rothamstead Virus Yellows model, which will be known on 1st March 2023.

‘We are currently reviewing all associated documentation and waiting for the stewardship conditions associated with this authorisation. Once digested, we will comment further in the coming days.’

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