Oilseed rape yields this year are at their highest levels despite a ban on neonicotinoids, new figures released this week reveal.
The figures show that only twice before has the average yield reached 3.9 tonnes per hectare – in 2011 and 2015.
Yields are averaging 0.2 tonnes higher than in the four years before the neonicotinoid flowering crop ban, environmental group Friends of the Earth has pointed out.
Restrictions on three neonicotinoids were introduced in 2013 due to their perceived risk to bees.
Yield data since the ban was introduced has not shown a decline. Figures show that this year’s yield is one of the highest in the last 10 years and higher than in 2013 when neonics were still widely used on the crop.
A vote is expected in the EU this year on whether to extend the current restrictions on neonics to all crops.
'Great news for bees'
Friends of the Earth food and farming campaigner Sandra Bell said the results are "great news" for bees.
“Above average yields of oilseed rape are great news for Britain’s farmers and bees – and show that neonicotinoids are not needed on these crops,” Ms Bell said.
“Around the country pioneering farmers have already pledged not to use restricted neonics on their oilseed rape - even if they were allowed back - and others are showing they can grow further crops like wheat without these chemicals. It’s time the Government and the NFU supported these efforts.
“Defra Secretary Michael Gove has promised to champion our environment - he must commit to a complete and permanent ban on these bee harming chemicals and keep Britain neonic-free post-Brexit.”
However, the NFU's annual harvest survey reveals varied results for Britain’s arable farmers.
The NFU said this demonstrates the need for farmers to have access to all the tools available, including plant protection products.
NFU combinable crops board chairman Mike Hambly said many farmers are still struggling with unpredictable weather, rising input prices and restricted access to plant protection products.
“Even now, many farmers have still yet to complete this year’s harvest,” Mr Hambly said.
“It is vital we build on increasing yields and in order to do this farmers’ need to have all the tools available to protect their crops and invest in new technology.
“A new domestic agricultural policy must enable farm businesses to be profitable and productive, while easing the impact of volatility to ensure Britain’s arable farmers can continue to provide food for the nation and deliver for the environment.”
Mr Hambly said plant protection products are "clearly top of that list".
He said the futures of both neonicotinoids and glyphosate are currently at a "critical juncture". The NFU has thus called on Government to support their availability to farmers.