Defra has given the green light for an emergency temporary authorisation for the use of a neonic seed treatment on this year’s sugar beet crop due to the risk of yellows viruses.
Strict conditions have been attached to the emergency authorisation of Syngenta’s Cruiser SB, including only allowing for application if independent modelling predicts a virus incidence of 63% or above.
If the virus threshold is not met, the neonicotinoid treated seed cannot be used.
And if the threshold is met and limited use is allowed, then further strict conditions will be applied 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.
Emerging sugar beet seedlings are vulnerable to predation from aphids that have the potential to spread beet yellows virus, which can severely affect yield and quality.
In 2020, 25% of the national sugar beet crop was lost, costing £67 million of total economic loss across an industry that creates nearly 10,000 jobs.
This year's sugar beet crop faces serious losses due to risk from aphids, with more than 50% of UK sugar stemming from domestic production.
Announcing the move, Defra farming minister Mark Spencer said the decision had not been taken lightly and was based on extensive and rigorous scientific assessment."
"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.
"The product can only be used if a strict threshold is met and on a single non-flowering crop," the minister said.
Emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted for a short period of time and in special circumstances.
Other pesticide and organic treatments are not sufficiently effective in controlling the virus.
Twelve EU countries - with significant sugar production - have granted emergency authorisations in the last three years for neonicotinoid seed treatments following the EU-wide ban - backed by the UK – coming into force.