Posted on 29 January, 2018Comments (0)

Farm Diary

Farm Diary

The January copy of the Villager contained comments about Neonicotinoid (neonic) seed dressings and a recent announcement by Michael Gove the Environment Secretary that was at best ill-informed and certainly misleading.

Neonics are applied to seed that is sown to grow food crops to protect them from infections or insect grazing that affect the plants. The insects fly until the winter frosts stop their activity. By the time the insects are flying again the plants are large enough to withstand their attacks. Until the introduction of neonics the only method of countering these attacks was to use crop sprayers and apply insecticides on a regular basis in the autumn until the cold weather arrived. Neonics offered the opportunity to apply a miniscule amount of chemical to each seed which then protected the plant just long enough until it was able to thrive despite the insect attacks – targeting the harmful aphids without impacting on the greater environment – a great step forward.

The effect upon the crops of not controlling these diseases is huge with up to 50% yield reductions, shrivelled grain and a loss of any quality. The miniscule amount of neonic that is applied to the seed is broken down over the winter by bacteria in the soil and ceases to exist by harvest time – no traces have been found in the food that is harvested. Many years ago I failed to treat one field and the consequent barley yellow virus disease (byvd), that is introduced by aphids and affects all cereals, decimated the yield. To deny that such diseases affect the crops that feed the population is akin to denying that the earth is round, that night follows day etc.

There is currently a moratorium on applying neonic seed dressing to flowering crops such as oilseed rape because of concerns about the decline in bee populations which could be caused by many factors. The British Bee Keepers Association website states that “the policy of both the UK and EU should be led by sound science” – at present there are a number of studies some showing linkage to bee death and others not.

Mr Gove has now announced that he is proposing to extend this moratorium to include a ban on neonic use on non-flowering crops such as cereals – when did you last see a bee taking pollen from a wheat ear! Cereals are self-pollinating and bees play no part in their fertilisation therefore have little contact with the cereal plant. The result if implemented will be that from this autumn onwards the only method to control the diseases that can decimate cereal crop yields will be to apply insecticide sprays that will kill the harmful insects but also those that are beneficial to the environment.

The sensible solution is to continue the ban on the use of neonics to flowering crops (oilseed rape) until the reason for the bee population decline is determined – it could be the recent summer weather that tends to be grey and wet (bees cannot fly well and forage when it rains) rather than sunny – BUT continue to allow neonic use on non-flowering crops such as cereals. Neonics will still be used outside the EU to help grow cereals – they understand that it is better for the environment to counter the harmful insects with a seed dressing rather than a spray.

The article suggested that the lack of squashed bugs on car windscreens was due to the use of neonics. This is farcical – the design of modern cars so that they are aerodynamically efficient is the reason – the bugs flow over the swept back windscreen without being flattened. Certainly my Landrover winscreen which is aerodynamically as efficient as a barn door (and about as fast) still collects huge numbers of bugs in the summer.

The rich well fed populations of Western Europe can afford to import food from the rest of the world if unscientific policies decrease food production – together with water the most basic of human requirements – but those imports deprive the poor of sustenance in the rest of the world. The UK has a population of about 60 million and less than 50% of our food is home grown. This means that there are over 30 million of the poorest people in the world competing with us to buy that food. When we have the means and ability to produce much of that food here it is wrong that politicians cave into pressure groups to limit our production without any scientific basis – especially if it has consequent harmful effects. Meetings are taking place with Mr Gove to explain the consequences of his proposed action but these days politicians seek headlines that attract support and higher ratings without the implications of their actions being understood. The sad thing is that despite the media hype the environment will be the loser.

“A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Alexander Pope 1774

Julian Lewis

[Please note that this message is not posted on behalf of Bentworth Parish Council and does not necessarily reflect the Parish Council’s policy]

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