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The 2015 oilseed rape harvest is coming in strong. Photo: Michael via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
The 2015 oilseed rape harvest is coming in strong. Photo: Michael via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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Oilseed rape flourishes without bee-killing chemicals

The Ecologist

3rd July 2015

Early yield figures indicate a bumper harvest for oilseed rape in England in the first neonic-free growing season - making a nonsense of the 'emergency' lifting of the ban of the bee-killing pesticides.

We seem to have forgotten that bees and other pollinators are essential to good crop yields. In the trade off this year pollinators may have had a bigger positive effect than any negative impact of flea beetles.

The first harvest results of winter oilseed rape (canola) planted without neonicotinoid seed treatments have come in - and farmers are experiencing a better than usual crop. Yields are higher than the average of the last five years.

ADAS, the UK's largest independent agricultural consultancy, has confirmed that with 15% of the oilseed rape harvested, yields are between 3.5 and 3.7 tonnes per hectare, higher than the normal farm average of 3.4, reporting:

"An estimated 15% of winter oilseed rape was also harvested with yields typically above the 5-year average, although it must be noted that yield information is based on a small area harvested to date. Limited quality data is available, although early quality indicators are good."


STOP PRESS 6th August 2015 - A second week of harvest data now more than confirms the trend. With 35% of the UK winter oilseed rape area harvested, "national yield estimates for winter barley and oilseed rape remain above the 10 year average, although this does hide some variability with low yields reported on winter oilseed rape that suffered poor establishment due to a range of factors, including pigeon and adult cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) damage."



Most of the harvest data comes from eastern England where 40% of the crop has already been brought in - precisely the region where the government is permitting the most intense use of neonic-soaked seeds to kill off claimed infestations of Cabbage stem flea bettle.

So where's the 'emergency'?

"This makes a total nonsense of the Government's recent controversial decision to allow these banned bee-killing agrotoxins to be used in four eastern counties as an 'emergency' measure", according to Buglife, the insect conservation charity.

Matt Shardlow, Buglife's CEO, added: "This is further evidence that neonicotinoids are not essential to maintaining crop yields. While some farmers struggled to establish their oilseed rape crop because the weather last year was ideal for flea beetles, where they have persisted the results have been good."

He adds that the very reason for the improved harvest of oilseed rape - an insect-pollinated crop that provides a rich source of nectar for bees - may be the neonic ban itself, permitting larger and healthier populations of bees and other pollinators:

"We seem to have forgotten that bees and other pollinators are essential to good crop yields. In the trade off this year pollinators may have had a bigger positive effect than any negative impact of flea beetles."

Buglife is calling on the UK Government to reconsider its decision to allow the use of banned bee toxins now that it is clear that there is no 'emergency' and indeed that bees appear to have helped farmers bring in a bumper crop.

NFU: 'flea beetle threat is widespread problem on a national scale'

The National Farmers Union application for 'derogations' on an EU partial ban on the use of neonic seed treatments was granted by the Environment Secretary Lis Truss on 22nd July based on NFU claims of "widespread crop losses of oilseed rape crops due to infestation by cabbage stem flea beetles."

Under the permits, the NFU has secured the 'emergency' use of neonicotinoid seed treatments covering about five per cent of the oilseed rape crop in England, an area of around 30,000ha.

The products which farmers will be able to have access to are Modesto (Bayer) and Cruiser OSR (Syngenta). The emergency use has been granted for 120 days.

The NFU's Vice President Guy Smith was recently insisting that even this amount was insufficient to deal with the problem: "We know that this isn't enough - flea beetle threat is widespread problem on a national scale and the extremely limited nature of this authorisation is unfortunately not going to help the vast majority of farmers in need of the protection."

Last week Friends of the Earth took the first steps towards a legal challenge to the neonic derogation, saying that on the basis of the documents released to date, the decision appeared to "unlawful" by failing to comply with the requirements of the Regulation that banned neonics, and wider EU law.

If the 2015 oilseed rape harvest ends up as good as early results indicate, this can only boost FoE's case, as it would undermine the case made by the government and the NFU that there was an 'emergency' that needed to be tackled.

 

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