FARMERS HAVE secured temporary use of banned chemical treatments to protect oilseed rape crops from a persistent pest, but industry leaders fear they will be deprived of more and more pesticides in the future.
Limited emergency use of two neonicotinoid pesticides have been granted by government to help neutralise the threat posed to the crops by cabbage stem flea beetles, following an application by the National Farmers’ Union.
Neonicotinoids have been linked with having detrimental effects on pollinating insects and so many seed treatments containing them have been banned as a precaution by the European Commission.
The products which farmers will have access to are Modesto, manufactured by Bayer, and Syngenta’s Cruiser OSR. Their use has been granted for 120 days for five per cent of the oilseed rape crop in England - a total area amounting to around 30,000 hectares.
Discussions on the logistics of distributing pre-sprayed seeds are underway but Guy Smith, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, admitted that the scope for relief was limited.
“The NFU has worked relentlessly to submit a robust application and we’re glad to finally see a positive result. However, we know that this isn’t enough - flea beetle threat is widespread problem on a national scale and the extremely limited nature of this authorisation is unfortunately not going to help the vast majority of farmers in need of the protection.
“We will ensure that this approval is made the most of, both logistically and through the detailed monitoring of the crop for useful data. We will also call on Defra to contribute to solutions for the many farmers whose crops are significantly threatened by flea beetle but will not have access to these products.”
Mr Smith attended the 140th Driffield Show on Wednesday where he told Country Week of how concerned he was about the loss of key pesticides as a result of European legislation.
He said: “Our concern is that we are losing active ingredients at a really accelerated rate. We have only got half what we had ten years ago and some people think in ten years’ time we will lose another half again.
“We would never say that farmers can’t see beyond the chemical cap when it comes to controlling diseases, pests and their crops; farmers, everyday, will use cultivations or use varieties or timings of drilling as ways to control pests and diseases non-chemically, however we believe that we should integrate the use of crop protection materials. We need those tools in our toolboxes to produce crops sufficiently and to make sure they are clean of disease and weed seeds.
“We are worried there is a knee-jerk, anti-pesticide sentiment in the EU that is really starting to undermine our ability to compete as farmers because if our competitors in Eastern Europe or America have access to crop protection products that we don’t then we are losing our competitive edge.”
At the time of going to press, the Bumblebee Conservation Trust said it was disappointed that the Government had accepted the NFU’s application but that it wanted to understand the reasons behind the decision before issuing a full statement outlining its position.
Fears for black grass battle
The NFU’s Guy Smith told Country Week he was particularly concerned about the battle against black grass, an invasive weed which damages yields.
He said that while black grass was becoming resistant to weed killers, he was concerned about an EU proposal to ban one such treatment, Propyzamide Kerb.
“If we lose Propyzamide the battle against black grass will maybe be lost and that’s central to healthy harvests.
“Looking at new technologies, such as laser control of wheat, are exciting and something we’re interested in but, to be frank, until we have got it on farm I’m not prepared to willingly let go of the chemistry we have got to control black grass.”