East Anglia’s core sugar beet crop ‘not at risk from pesticide ban’

Lifting the sugar beet from a field in Fornham near Bury.

Lifting the sugar beet from a field in Fornham near Bury.

One of Suffolk’s core crops, sugar beet, will not be subject to Europe’s two-year ban of a key plant protection product.

Dr Mark Stevens, lead scientist for the British Beet Research Organisation and based on Norwich Research Park, said: “My understanding at the moment is that sugar beet is not included or at risk with regards to the ban which will potentially come in on December 1.”

As commercial sugar beet was not a flowering crop, which did not attract bees, there was no reason for it to be included, he said.

He met officials of Europe’s beet growing organisation in Brussels to discuss the possible implications of restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids. However, Dr Stevens was concerned about a possible extension to the scope of the moratorium, which has been imposed by the European Commission.

He said that this family of seed treatments had been introduced into the UK in 1994. “We were the second country in Europe to use them after the Spanish, so we had them for 19 years,” he added.

A low dose of insecticide was mixed into the coating around the seed. “It is the best way to use it because it provides protection the emerging seedling. A seed is planted and it produces a root which is harvested and then the sugar is extracted. You’re planting a biennial crop but harvesting it as an annual,” he added.

The seed coating protected sugar beet against at least 12 to 14 pests. “It protects the crop with a one-stop shop around the seed. As a result, other chemicals don’t have to be applied from a sprayer and avoids the potentially several further applications,” he added.

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This was particularly critical in the first 12 to 14 weeks as the seedling emerges and grows before mature plant resistance developed.