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Bees versus sugar beets

15 January, 2021

Regular Friday 5 readers will have spotted that bees are a hot topic here. The power of these furry insects to support 35% of our global agriculture continues to amaze us and we don’t know where we would bee without them.

Last week DEFRA announced an emergency authorisation of previously banned neonicotinoid pesticides, because of the danger posed by Beet Yellows Virus in sugar beet farming (for seed coatings and not spray use). This announcement comes after evidence showed that neonicotinoids can harm bee brain development, weaken immune systems and in some cases even leave bees unable to fly.

The use of neonicotinoids has sparked a fierce debate as organisations and farmers on both sides explore the complexities of nature-friendly farming in a world where climate change is wreaking havoc on natural systems.

Those against the pesticide say it will be hard to prevent runoff into plants and rivers, damaging local wildlife and ecosystems, as well as our bees. Organisations such as WWF, The Soil Association and RSPB have rallied together to call on the government to reintroduce the ban and look at long-term strategies for a sustainable future for sugar beet farming in the UK. In addition, some companies, such as Crocus, the online garden nursery, are acting to step up their protection of bees, by ensuring the plants they sell are free of neonicotinoids.

Those arguing for use of the pesticide focus on the fact that climate change is wreaking havoc on UK farming and after an extremely mild winter last year, pests and diseases increased, including the Beet Yellow Virus, which decimated sugar beet crops (up to 80% in some cases).

It’s clear we need long-term nature-friendly pest solutions. But in the short-term to save the bees we may have to accept lower yields or shift production to colder areas and swallow higher costs for a spoonful of sugar in our tea.

By Gemma Coate

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