As we previously reported, the UK Government has been setting out its aims for farmers to work with nature and increase their level of sustainability.

Wildlife habitats and biodiversity net gain form key elements of Westminster’s overall Environmental Improvement Plan, incentivising English farmers to adopt nature-friendly practices on 70% of agricultural land and restore 45,000 miles of hedgerows by 20250.

Set against these targets, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides was given emergency authorisation in January; does this represent reasonable balance or does it expose a lack of substance behind the targets?

This type of pest control had been banned since 2018 due to its effects on the immune systems and brood development of bees. Globally the most commonly used insecticide, they are generally deployed against aphids and root feeding grubs, but have significant impacts on the natural environment. Emergency authorisation was granted following high incidence of virus yellows disease, a complex of three viruses, impacting sugar beet that can cause crop losses of up to 80%. The disease is spread by the peach potato aphid.

The sugar beet industry has been seeking solutions that avoid the use of the banned pesticides, but emergency authorisation has been granted pesticides temporarily over the past three seasons.  

Number 4 in the 10-goal 25-year Environmental Improvement Plan is to “make sure that chemicals are safety used and managed, and that the levels of harmful chemicals entering the environment (including through agriculture) are significantly reduced”.

Further details of the Chemicals Strategy and an action plan for sustainable use of pesticides are expected this year. While these may provide further guidance on crop protection for sugar beet, the list of permitted chemicals continues to decline, when fulfilment of nature and public health targets is considered.

This means solutions will need to be found with or without incentivisation. Increasingly, there is potential for biodiversity and natural capital to provide solutions through increased integration.

At Galbraith, we work with our clients to solve their problems. Often, the solution includes investing in natural capital.

For example, integrated pest management provides a way for farmers to exercise more sustainable practices and reduce pesticide use. IPM plans might include systems already in use, such as crop rotation, resistant crop varieties and biological control agents.

The use of natural predators, such as of aphids by beet growers would reduce the need for pesticides. Positive results can be achieved using biodiversity measures such as beetle banks, hedgerow reinstatement and generally increasing the positive function of the ecosystem.

Using crop-resistant varieties and varied cropping promotes the retention of species biodiversity. Recent research has also shown the potential for soil bacteria as biological control agents against aphids, and the potential of seminochemicals to disrupt aphid behaviour.

These are all exciting approaches. We believe that with the right advice and holistic approaches, very effective alternatives to chemical pesticides can be found that do not harm the environment.

  • Natural Capital: The expert advisers at Galbraith guide our clients in realising value in all land uses – by assessing and measuring natural assets, furthering opportunities in biodiversity net gain, and ensuring stakeholders are rewarded fully for their investment in and contribution to delivering ecosystem services and net-zero outcomes.