How Are the Restrictions on Neonics Affecting Europe’s Farmers?
One hectare of oilseed rape gives us 1,600 kg of edible oil (approx. 3,300 bottles), 2,500 kg of rapeseed meal (enough to feed three milk cows for a year), and 40 kg of rape honey (approx. 80 jars). So those fields aren’t just pretty, they’re also extremely useful. But if I told you that a recent research paper by HFFA, a 100% subsidiary of the Humboldt Forum for Food and Agriculture, calculated that Europe’s oilseed rape production has fallen by 912,000 metric tons or that the oilseed rape acreage in the UK, for example, declined by 14% from 2014 to 2016, you might well be wondering what’s going on. Don’t farmers know how much we all like seeing those glorious fields glowing in the spring sunshine?
There’s actually a very serious story behind the declining acreage of oilseed rape, and the main victims aren’t those of us who like a walk in the countryside but Europe’s oilseed rape farmers who are suffering from declining yields and lower quality crop. The whole business began with the EU Commission’s restrictions on the use of certain seed-applied insecticides on bee-attractive crops, commonly known as neonics, in December 2013. Oilseed rape is prone to many pests and diseases and neonics were widely needed and used as highly effective means of controlling a number of highly damaging insect pests, notably the Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle. Now that these seed treatments have been restricted, farmers have been forced to change their pest management tactics. Unfortunately, none of the alternatives are as effective as those restricted neonics. There’s been a significant increase in the number of leaf-applied (foliar) applications, mainly pyrethroids, which has resulted in growing pest resistance. Farmers all over Europe are reporting more damage from pests and a result fall in yields and crop quality. All this is costing farmers an arm and a leg, or as the HFFA study calculated, around €120 million a year.
Global Head SeedGrowth at Bayer Division Crop Science
Oilseed rape isn’t the only crop where the restrictions on neonics have seriously impacted pest management methods, crops and farmers. A study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) published in January 2017 investigated pest management changes by farmers in seven EU countries and three crops (maize, oilseed rape and sunflowers). Each sample consisted of 100 farmers. Just see what happened to three crops in three typical countries: Hungary (sunflowers), France (maize) and the Czech Republic (oilseed rape). In all three countries there was a marked increase in the use of pyrethroids as soil or foliar treatments, e.g. from 5% to 40% of the farmers in Hungary. There was also a significant increase in the treatment frequency and the cost of protecting the crop – the latter up between 60% and 85%. Last but not least, the perceived pest pressure had gone up by between 30% and 60%. All that is bad news for farmers!
A sound approach to decision-making at EU level ought to consider the implications for farmers and recognize the increasing threat of resistant pests. Otherwise, it might not be long before we’re going to have to walk a lot further to enjoy those bright-yellow fields of oilseed rape. And since that crop is also one of the most important sources of early-season forage for pollinators such as the honey bees the neonic restrictions were supposed to help, the decline in oilseed rape acreage as a direct consequence of these restrictions is doing more harm than good!
If you want to learn more about Bayer SeedGrowth – and seed-applied neonicotinoids – click here.