NFU vice-president Guy Smith has publically claimed that farmers in Sweden have reported a 70 per cent loss in spring oil seed rape yields. Similar claims appear on the NFU website and twitter and are central to the NFU’s position that the ban on Cruiser (clothianidin) treated seeds must be lifted to prevent crop loss from flea beetles. A request from Syngenta for a derogation to use the bee-killing insecticide on 186,000 Ha of Autumn sown oil seed rape is currently being considered by the Government.
However, Swedish Crop Statistics obtained by Buglife reveal that the 70% reduction is not a 70% loss, but a 71% reduction in area of spring sown oil seed rape – 50,949 Ha planted in 2013 down to 14,733 this year.
Although the overall area planted with oil seed rape in Sweden has dropped, there has also been an 8,200ha increase in the area of Autumn sown oil seed rape. Swedish farmers prefer to plant oil seed rape in the autumn as it has higher yields than spring planted. This shift in planting patterns was a result of unusually favourable Autumn planting weather and fear that planting in Spring would mean planting after the start of the temporary neonicotinoid ban, which might expose the seedlings to flea beetle attack.
In practice the flea beetle fears have not been realised in Sweden, according to Thorsten Rahbek-Pedersen of the Swedish Board of Agriculture there has not been a big problem with flea beetle in Sweden this year – c.80% of fields are fine.
Matt Shardlow CEO of Buglife said ‘UK farmers should be reassured that the claimed Swedish ‘yield losses’ are in fact simply changes in planting decisions, partly resulting from favourable weather and there has not been a devastating resurgence of pests in the absence of neonicotinoid seed treatments’.
This revelation comes on top of two recent reviews of scientific evidence that have failed to find improvements in crop yields as a result of neonicotinoid use and the failure at a recent House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee of a Bayer spokesman to name a single published, peer reviewed scientific paper showing that neonicotinoids improved crop yields.