In response to Buglife investigations the NFU has retracted a number of misleading claims it has made about the impacts of the neonicotinoid ban on Oilseed rape yields, but continues to promulgate information that gives a misleading impression. This is not in the best interest of farmers who need impartial advice and healthy pollinator populations.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith has now distanced the NFU from the misinformation highlighted by Buglife tweeting “Farmers Guardian stuff should have read 'area' not 'yield'. I agree the word 'losses' would be better expressed as 'reduction'” and he tweeted BBC Farming Today saying “please note that reports I mentioned on your prog of 70% of the Swedish OSR crop being destroyed by flea beetle were wrong”.
Despite this admission the NFU website still reports the “loss of up to 70%” and claims that “Crops that were planted, even in the lowest-risk situations, came under severe attack from insect pests.”
Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO, responded “Let’s be clear the Swedes have not lost their Oil seed rape crop, they either planted it in Autumn or planted an alternative crop, and claims that Oil seed rape crops are ‘under severe attack from insect pests’ appear to be unfounded.”
Until yesterday the NFU website also stated that:-
“The HGCA estimate on average the loss of these Neonicotinoids in Oilseed rape can reduce yield by around 10%, however this average figures does not give the full picture and some crops are capable of being wiped out by flea beetle when the plants emerge.”
This figure is an order of magnitude higher than the 1% HGCA estimate. Buglife flagged this up to the HGCA (the cereals and oilseeds division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board). The HGCA confirmed that the figure of 10% was indeed incorrect and was not a figure published by HGCA and they asked the NFU to correct the figure.
In its place the NFU website now makes a confusing reference to what would happen to yields as a result of viruses if there were no pesticides used at all!
“The NFU appears to be trying its hardest to scare farmers into not planting Oil seed rape and mislead decision makers into overturning the neonicotinoid ban.” Said Matt.
Meanwhile everything is looking rosy for this year’s yield with a record harvest predicted across the EU, and in the UK the neonicotinoid ban has not reduced sales of Oil seed rape seeds for next year’s crop. Speaking to Farmers Weekly Pete Berry, oilseed rape expert at ADAS said “The yield potential should be high”. While David Leaper, arable technical manager at Openfield stated “We are seeing no evidence that growers are being put off oilseed rape.”
Why is the NFU twisting the facts around corners to try to present a case that neonicotinoids must be reapproved? Yield benefits of using neonicotinoids are unclear whilst bees and other pollinators are worth £510 million per annum, why put this at risk for the sake of couple of million pounds of yield benefits?
In November 2012 at the Pollinators and Pesticides Inquiry Zac Goldsmith MP said in exasperation “Increasingly, NFU seems to be a national agribusiness union and not a National Farmers Union”.