Protecting the sugar beet crop in 2022 and beyond

Moving away from temporary emergency use applications to secure a future for sugar beet: the industry plant protection plan for 2022 and beyond.

NFU Sugar works closely with the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) and British Sugar to secure the appropriate plant protection products for growers to achieve a viable sugar beet crop.

This involves working with ministers, Defra officials, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and plant protection companies to achieve full (multiple-year) product authorisations alongside emergency use (one-off) product authorisations determined by annual need.

Plant protections are used, when scientific thresholds for need are met, as part of a grower’s integrated pest management (IPM) plan. All sugar beet growers in the UK are required to complete an IPM plan as part of their annual, compulsory Red Tractor certification audit. If growers are not Red Tractor certified, they cannot sell their sugar beet to the sole processor of sugar beet in the UK – British Sugar.

Virus yellows disease

It is impossible to forget the shocking season last year which saw virus yellows disease spread quickly across the sugar beet growing area, causing yields to plummet. Many suffered a double blow with the added impact of Cercospora.

Thankfully, colder temperatures in early 2021 resulted in low virus pressure this year. The Rothamsted virus yellows model, predicting virus yellows this season back in March, and determining that Cruiser SB would not be used, was accurate. Nevertheless, the sugar beet industry is not resting on its laurels and is committed to protecting future crops.

The sugar beet industry has submitted an emergency use application for Cruiser SB to be used on sugar beet seed next year. I must stress that, as was the case last year, the use of Cruiser SB is subject to a predetermined threshold level through the Rothamsted virus yellows model. If the threshold for using Cruiser SB is met, growers will be required to follow a strict set of conditions including rules dictating what crops can be drilled after sugar beet treated with Cruiser SB is harvested. For example, oilseed rape must only be drilled a minimum of 32 months after the drilling of Cruiser SB-treated sugar beet seed, with some growers likely to leave even more time between sugar beet and oilseed rape, while some will not have oilseed rape in the crop rotation at all.

Aside from seed treatments, foliar sprays continue to play an important role in the grower toolkit. The sugar beet industry has received emergency use approvals for Insyst (Acetamiprid) for the past three years, with growers using the product only if pre-determined, scientific thresholds are met.

Emergency use applications must be submitted in the November prior to the crop being drilled. The application is then considered by an expert committee on pesticides (the ECP), consisting of scientists with a background in plant protection and ecotoxicology. We are pleased that, for the first time this year, two positions have been made available for those with agronomy expertise. As a result, farmer voices will be sat at the table in these meetings.

Even so, emergency use applications result in a huge amount of uncertainty and worry for growers as it is not known which products will be available to assist if or when pests and diseases become an issue. In other words, growers plant the sugar beet crop uncertain of whether they will have the means to protect their crop if pests or diseases arise throughout the season.

NFU Sugar, British Sugar and the BBRO are working together to secure full (multiple-year) authorisations for products such as Insyst for growers to gain more certainty on the products available to protect their crop ahead of drilling. The aim is to gain a full (multiple-year) authorisation for Insyst for the 2022 crop and beyond. Thresholds will continue to apply in all circumstances.

Cercospora leaf spot

The incidence of Cercospora leaf spot has been rising in the UK, leading to BBRO launching a risk forecasting model for the 2021 season. Click here to watch a video of the BBRO’s Dr Simon Bowen talking about how the BBRO is tackling Cercospora or click here to read the latest forecast.

Although localised forecasts enable the early warning of disease, products must be in place to address the disease if it arises. Most growers use a two or three generic product fungicide programme such as:

T1 – Triazole/strobilurin-based product (Escolta, Mirador Xtra, Priori Gold)

T2 – Straight triazole such as Impact (Flutriafol)

T3 – Second triazole/strobilurin product (Escolta, Mirador Xtra, Priori Gold)

There are currently no Cercospora-specific fungicides available in the UK, plus products containing epoxiconazole can’t be used or stored after 31 October 2021 in the UK, leaving a gap in chemistry.

The industry is working to gain full authorisations for specialist fungicides to target Cercospora and hopes to secure these in time for the 2022 season. An appropriate fungicide product combined with the localised risk forecast should armour growers against this ever-increasing disease to reduce yield loss and assist sugar beet growers to have viable farm businesses.

Nematodes

Alongside British Sugar and the BBRO, NFU Sugar gained an emergency use for the granular nematicide Vydate (Oxamyl) for the 2021 drilled crop to protect against nematodes. The sugar beet crop was the only crop permitted to use Vydate this year, a result of our tireless work to make the case to government regarding the need to protect growers' sugar beet crops against free living nematodes. Nematodes affect a small area of the national crop (around 8% of national sugar beet area) but farms that are impacted face devastating yield loss. Government has indicated that future applications for Vydate will not be considered, therefore the industry is working hard to attain alternatives.

The BBRO has trials in the ground comparing the performance of Vydate and Nemguard. Currently used on carrots and parsnips, Nemguard is a granular nematicide which can be applied to soils through an appropriate granule applicator, similarly to Vydate. However, it is formulated as a micro granule containing 45% garlic extract. Performance is looking promising, and we are hoping to gain full authorisation for use on sugar beet in time for 2022 drilling.