The European Commission has recently proposed an extension on the ban of neonicotinoids from oilseed rape, to all field crops. This ban would have significant consequences for the majority of farmers growing 16 million tonnes of wheat, 7 million tonnes of barley and 7 million tonnes of sugar beet in the UK each year.
The proposed ban appears to disregard the implications of further limiting farmers’ crop protection tool kit and the subsequent challenge of resistance management for pests, for which few alternatives are available.
Contract farming over 3,600 hectares in the Scottish Borders, David Fuller of McGregor Farms is extremely concerned about the effects this ban would have on the 14 farms he is responsible for.
Mr Fuller uses Deter (clothianidin), a neonicotinoid, to dress 60% of his wheat, and all his barley seed, to protect against slugs and aphid vectors of BYDV. He begins:
“Unlike further south where wheat is drilled late to manage black-grass, up here we have to drill early, as once the narrow window to drill is closed, that’s it. Due to the damp summers we have, slugs can be a real issue and we find that Deter covers us from grain hollowing.
“With aphids flying later into the year, we also use Deter to provide protection against BYDV. If we were to lose Deter, there’s no doubt we’d have to use more insecticide sprays to counter the loss, but that also depends on the weather being good enough to get out and spray. If it isn’t, the crop will go unprotected, which could be disastrous for yield come harvest.”
Mr Fuller makes the point that many of the crop protection products used by growers can be found in your local supermarket or garden centre. Of course, on a farm these products are used on an industrial scale, however the targeted nature of seed treatments, means they are much more environmentally friendly than their spray and pellet counterparts, he says.
Claire Matthewman, Seed Treatment Campaign Manager at Bayer, agrees. She adds:
“If growers were to lose Deter there would undoubtedly be an increase in broad spectrum insecticide sprays to counter the seed treatment activity in this area.
For those growers using Deter to counter aphid vectors of BYDV, we’d estimate that an extra 1-2 million hectares would have to be sprayed with pyrethroids to equal its effects – that’s the equivalent of the top 250 stadiums in the UK being sprayed every day for 11 years! Pyrethroids are not as targeted an approach as a seed treatment and aphid resistance will only increase given a couple of seasons without Deter.”
Mr Fuller concludes:
“It is important to remember that we are trained professionals that take stewardship seriously and behave responsibly when using seed treatment products.”
“We must follow the science. If neonicotinoids are proven to be harmful to bees then we can’t bury our heads in the sand. But in the same vein, we can’t remove another essential element of the tool kit without reasonable evidence.”