The government is to grant an emergency authorisation for the use of the neonicotinoid seed dressing thiamethoxam (Syngenta’s Cruiser SB) for 2021 sugar beet crops planted in England. This follows a request from British Sugar and the NFU after significant damage to the 2020 beet crop from the beet yellows virus and fears for a repeat in the 2021 crop. The active is one of three neonicotinoids prohibited by Defra from spring 2018.

British Sugar describes the request as a last resort after “the extreme and unprecedented impact of Virus Yellows disease, which is spread by aphids. Some growers saw yields destroyed by as much as 80%.”

There has been opposition from bodies that fear a detrimental effect on bees and pollinators, while some are claiming the move as a Brexit benefit. British Sugar responds that supporting bee populations is extremely important to the company and its growers. “The treatment is applied to the seed before it is sown – it is not a spray. It will be used in an extremely limited and controlled way on the 2021 sugar beet crop, which is non-flowering, and only if a pre-determined, independent aphid forecast threshold is met in February.”

As regards Brexit, “The emergency authorisation brings the UK into line with 13 EU countries which have already granted similar derogations for neonicotinoid seed treatments to be used for this year’s sugar beet crop.”

And the company emphasises that the UK beet industry is working to tackle Virus Yellows without neonicotinoids, including R&D to improve natural resistance in the crop.

Hazel Doonan, head of agronomy and the crop protection sector at the AIC says the emergency authorisation was based on the advice of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides (ECP), and Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser. They all considered that the strict conditions for application minimise the threat to bees and the environment, making the risk acceptable.

“The emergency authorisation will enable farmers and agronomists to manage virus yellows more effectively in high-risk sugar beet crops in England until solutions for the control of virus yellows in all beet crops across the UK is found,” she concludes.