November 08, 2017

New opportunities for EU sugar beet farmers focus the need for new pest control solutions

The end of European Union (EU) quotas for sugar offers exciting opportunities for beet farmers across Europe, with industry analysts suggesting that production across the region could be increased by up to 50%. 

However, the deregulation of the sector coincides with a potential reduction of the farmers’ toolbox for insect control in sugar beet.  As the sector gears up to take advantage of this new commercial environment, we speak to Dr John Maier, Head of R&D at Südzucker AG and Stuart Harder, Technical Manager at the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) about the need for radically new pest control regimes. 

‘It’s an interesting paradox’, suggests Dr Maier. ‘At the same time that sugar beet farmers are seeing opportunities to significantly increase output, they are also faced with a real threat to yields if the ban on neonicotinoids is extended’. 

‘Damage to young beets by foliar pests such as flea beetles, thrips, yellow-transmitting aphids & leaf miners can be considerable and we are particularly concerned about the likely return of virus diseases’, Dr Maier continued. ‘In the UK, warmer winters mean that adult pests are surviving and are therefore able to immediately infect the crop. Though winters in Germany are generally much colder, we see the same problem here, albeit to a lesser extent’.

Over at the British Beet Research Organisation’s HQ in Norwich, Stuart Harder is the technical lead on a number of sugar beet trials. ‘Though well served by herbicides, there are a limited number of foliar insecticides applicable to beet’, he observes.

With the potential loss of actives in sugar beet on the horizon, Stuart is leading trials to assess the efficacy of a number of products that are currently used to control aphids in a range of other crops. ‘Our trials come at an interesting time for sugar beet farmers and we’re working against the clock to test treatments. With aphid control products, we’re drilling the trials later than normal so that the plants are at a younger growth stage at the time of infestation. This encourages a natural infection that reflects the insecticide resistance profile of the local aphid population., Stuart explains.

‘We have sprayed a number of products and assessed for winged and wingless aphids (peach potato aphid mainly) and compared results. What we’re really looking for is products that offer a new mode of action because that’s how we can counter the potential for increasing resistance. This was the first time that Isoclast had been used and it performed as well as the leading product’, Stuart continued The plan is to repeat the trials this autumn and next spring to allow the research team to generate more results to support bringing Isoclast products to sugar beet growers as soon as possible.

With the opportunities available to farmers in a deregulated market emerging at the same time as their insect control toolbox is under increasing pressure, it’s imperative that new solutions, with a new mode of action are made available. ‘It looks like we have a relatively short window during which we need to test and bring to market alternative products for pest control in sugar beet. It’s vitally important that we deliver this objective at a time of such opportunity for beet farmers’, Dr Maier concluded.

Dr. Johann Maier: Kuratorium für Versuchswesen und Beratung im Zuckerrübenanbau, Mannheim (Germany)

Stuart Harder: Technical Manager, British Beet Research Organisation, Norwich, England