Oil seed rape crop yields above average – Friends of the Earth and Buglife reaction

12 Oct 2017
Oilseed rape crop yields are above average this year – which is great news for Britain’s farmers and bees. It shows that neonicotinoids are not needed on these crops.

Oilseed rape yields this year are at their highest ever levels. Only twice before has the average yield reached 3.9 tonnes per hectare – in 2011 and 2015, new figures released today reveal. 

Restrictions on 3 neonicotinoids were introduced in 2013 due to their risk to bees. Since the ban was put in place, the NFU has warned it would be difficult to grow oilseed rape without neonicotinoids and has put in several applications for ‘emergency’ use of the chemicals.

But yield data since the ban was introduced has not shown a decline. And this year’s yield is one of the highest in the last 10 years and significantly higher than in 2013 when neonics were still widely used on the crop [1].

Yields are averaging 0.2 tonnes higher than in the 4 years before the ban.

Friends of the Earth food and farming campaigner Sandra Bell said:

“Above average yields of oilseed rape are great news for Britain’s farmers and bees – and show that neonicotinoids are not needed on these crops.

“Around the country pioneering farmers have already pledged not to use restricted neonics on their oilseed rape - even if they were allowed back - and others are showing they can grow further crops like wheat without these chemicals. It’s time the Government and the NFU supported these efforts.

“Defra Secretary Michael Gove has promised to champion our environment - he must commit to a complete and permanent ban on these bee harming chemicals and keep Britain neonic-free post-Brexit.”

Buglife chief executive Matt Shardlow said:

“While some farmers have found it more challenging to get oilseed rape crops established it is likely that this is due to increasing pest resistance to pyrethroid insecticides than to the loss of neonicotinoids.  We are pleased to see that farmers are adapting to these challenges and this is great evidence that a healthy, biodiverse agricultural system helps farmers to produce better yields.”

Sam Fairs of Hill Farm Oils in Suffolk, said:

“If we’re doing harm to bees and pollinators we need to find some other way of doing it. That’s why we took the stance to not use neonicotinoid seed treatments. We’ve been OK. I haven’t lost any crops to the flea beetle”.

Hill Farm bottle more than 500,000 litres of rapeseed oil every year and supplies major supermarkets.

Studies show that neonicotinoids do not protect crops against other key pests such as slugs, and could even be counter-productive. A Finnish study has concluded that declines in oilseed yields were explained by neonicotinoid use, most likely via disruption of pollination services by wild pollinators.

Notes to editors:

1. Oilseed Rape Yields: This year’s yield results are available here.  OSR yields since the ban have not gone down compared to pre-ban levels, and have largely stayed above the 10 year average (3.4t/ha)

2. Farming oilseed rape without neonics:  A pioneering group of farmers has committed not to use three bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) on their oilseed rape crops - even if the current ban on their use is lifted, more details can be found in Friends of the Earth’s shoppers guide.  Sam Fairs of Hill Farm explains in this short video  why he chose to make the pledge.

3. Extending the ban:  A vote is expected in the EU this year on whether to extend the current restrictions on neonics to all crops. Some farmers are already farming crops like wheat, that would be covered by the extended ban, without neonics.

4. Public Support: Three quarters of the public agree government should support tougher action on bee-harming chemicals | Friends of the Earth press release.

5. Further doubts over effectiveness of neonics: Even where there have been losses of Oil Seed Rape there is no evidence that the availability of neonicotinoids would have made a difference. Even the NFU has suggested that neonics can be ineffective in areas of high pest pressure, according to the NFU “This is because to obtain the insecticide, beetles must ingest a small amount of plant material, therefore, in high or severe pest pressure situations, the amount of plant material needed to supply so many beetles is too much and results in plant death” (from an NFU covering letter for emergency use of neonics in 2017).

6. A study has shown that neonicotinoids can reduce crop yields because they kill predatory ground beetles allowing slugs to eat the crop. Hokkanen, H.M.T., Menzler-Hokkanen, I. & Keva, M. Arthropod-Plant Interactions (2017) 11: 449. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11829-017-9527-3 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11829-017-9527-3

7. Douglas, M. R., Rohr, J. R. and Tooker, J. F. (2015), EDITOR'S CHOICE: Neonicotinoid insecticide travels through a soil food chain, disrupting biological control of non-target pests and decreasing soya bean yield. J Appl Ecol, 52: 250–260. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12372 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2664.12372