EU Farmers Feel First Hit of Neonicotinoid Ban

Dr. Julian Little, Bayer CropScience

Dr. Julian Little, Bayer CropScience

For the UK, the first impacts of the ban on neonicotinoids were felt last autumn, says Dr. Julian Little, communications and government affairs manager with Bayer CropScience. As predicted, less oilseed rape was planted.

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It wasn’t until the end of the season, in late July, that the country’s government – at the urging of the National Farmers Union (NFU), whose initial application was denied – finally approved an emergency derogation for neonicotinoid-treated seeds in limited parts of the country – those areas deemed to be the most at risk from the cabbage stem flea beetle, which devastated farms particularly in the east of England.

More than likely, it was too little, too late.

The authorization came with strings attached: It lasted for 120 days and covered just 5% of the oilseed rape crop in England, which amounts to around 30,000 hectares. Little called the amounts allowed of Bayer’s Modesto and Syngenta’s Cruiser “almost homeopathic.”

“This means the vast majority of UK farmers are still denied access to this technology, and therefore the overall effect is limited,” says Adam Speed, spokesman for the Crop Protection Association. He tells FCI, “We’ll be looking at this winter’s oilseed rape crop with interest.”

NeoChartYields of oilseed rape were down 60,000 hectares due to pests while another 38,000 ha went unplanted because of a lack of crop protection products in the UK, according to preliminary figures from Copa-Cogeca, which represents European farmers and cooperatives. At the same time, four times the foliar insecticide was sprayed.

In Germany, the oilseed rape growing area declined 6% and severe damage from cabbage flea beetle jumped 10%, as production costs and resistance issues rose, Copa-Cogeca said.

The UK’s suspension was markedly different from other EU countries, which also recently enacted emergency measures. Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Romania, and Bulgaria also lifted their bans temporarily, but offered far more generous conditions than in the UK with unrestricted use of the products permitted.

Jean-Charles Bocquet, director general of the European Crop Protection Association, says he was not surprised several countries lifted the ban, which was intended to be in place for just two seasons while the European Commission collected and reviewed data to make a final determination. As often is the case, he says, that data is still being collected.

The industry “will continue to push to get derogations” throughout more EU countries, particularly with Western Europe experiencing high enough autumn temperatures to promote pest infestations, Bocquet says.

According to Dr. Juergen Keppler, head of ecotoxicology with Bayer CropScience, the earliest anticipated decision from the European Commission regarding new scientific data collected would be the third or fourth quarter of 2016. Before then, the Commission will mandate the European Food Safety Authority review the data and provide conclusions derived from an updated bee risk assessment.

Increasing Spray Use
According to a report carried out by Rural Business Research, growers in England spent an additional $33.4 million (£22 million) using alternative chemistry to tackle flea beetle on winter oilseed rape crops following the ban on neonicotinoids. In some cases this resulted in multiple extra applications of broad-spectrum pyrethroid insecticides to try and curb the pest damage.

Farmers have increased their use of foliar sprays since autumn 2014 as a result of the restrictions, says Chris Hartfield, NFU chief horticulture adviser and bee health specialist.

beesCommenting on a study in the journal Nature, “Evidence for pollinator cost and farming benefits of neonicotinoid seed coatings on oilseed rape,” published in August, Hartfield said, “These sprays are a costly, less targeted and time-consuming way of fending off crop pests. This study provides strong evidence that use of these sprays drops by about a quarter when using neonicotinoid seed treatments.

“We’ve always argued that the loss of neonicotinoids will have significant impacts on crops yields. From this study we can see clearly that neonicotinoid use results in oilseed rape yield increases, which are vital in increasing farm productivity and profitability,” Hartfield adds.

The UK saw “a bit of a backlash” in reaction to the measures, Speed says. The campaign group 38 Degrees launched an online petition against neonicotinoids, which attracted over 500,000 signatures. In addition, Friends of the Earth UK filed a challenge in the UK High Court to have the decision to grant the emergency authorization declared unlawful.

New studies designed by the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology are on their way looking at the impact of both Modesto and Cruiser on honey bees, bumble bees and at least one solitary bee in the UK, Germany, and Hungary, according to Little. Although ultimately funded by Bayer and Syngenta, their independence has been guaranteed by the delegation of all aspects of the study to the independent scientists running it.

If no significant impact is seen, as many believe, he says, the UK “will have every reason to allow farmers to access neonicotinoid seed treatments wherever they need them.”