Emergency temporary authorisation for the use of a neonicotinoid seed treatment on this year’s sugar beet crop has been given by Defra, because of a risk of yellows virus.

The permission comes with strict conditions, including only allowing for application if independent modelling predicted a virus incidence of 63%, or above. If the virus threshold falls short, the neonicotinoid treated seed cannot be used.

And, if the threshold is met and limited use is allowed, then further strict conditions will be applied to minimise risks to the environment.

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This included a maximum number of seeds planted per hectare and restrictions on farmers planting flowering crops in subsequent years in any field where treated seed had been used.

Emerging sugar beet seedlings are vulnerable to predation from aphids that have the potential to spread beet yellows virus, which can severely affect yield and quality.

In 2020, 25% of the national sugar beet crop was lost, costing £67m of total economic loss across an industry that creates nearly 10,000 jobs. This year's sugar beet crop also faces serious losses due to risk from aphids, with more than 50% of UK sugar stemming from domestic production.

Defra farming minister, Mark Spencer, said the decision had not been taken lightly and was 'based on extensive and rigorous scientific assessment.'

"We recognise the potential danger of an outbreak of the beet yellows virus on the nation’s sugar beet crop and the impact it could have on the production of UK sugar. Therefore, after careful consideration, we regard issuing an emergency authorisation as a necessary measure to protect the industry," he said.

"The product can only be used if a strict threshold is met and on a single non-flowering crop."

Emergency authorisations for pesticides are only granted for a short period of time in special circumstances and when other pesticide and organic treatments are not sufficiently effective in controlling the virus.