Package of measures needed to increase bee health and farm biodiversity
BEE health is vitally important to plant breeders, but the ban on neonicotinoids by the European Commission is disappointing, Syngenta’s principal scientific adviser Dr Mike Bushell told the conference.
Dr Bushell said neonicotinoids were only eighth on a European Commission table for reasons for the decline in the bee population and the ban was imposed for political reasons.
He said: “Neonicotinoids was the only one the EC thought it could do something about.”
Dr Bushell argued Syngenta was one of the world’s biggest bee customers and wanted to see healthy bees.
Research by the company had shown bees flourished when the crop was in bloom but then had to work extremely hard to survive due to a lack of alternative forage sources on farms.
This showed the importance of farmers establishing and monitoring essential wildflower habitats, which would also increase overall farm biodiversity alongside a high yielding crop, he added.
Syngenta’s operation pollinator advice has been disseminated to 16 different countries and the company spends $1.5 billion (£0.9bn) globally on research and development.
Devon dairy farmer and cheesemaker Mary Quicke said she was concerned most of the country’s agronomists were funded by agro-chemical companies, questioning whether this would be tolerated if all doctors were funded by pharmaceutical companies.
Many of the PhD students in agriculture were from overseas and took their knowledge back with them, she added.
Ms Quicke, who runs about 500 cows at Newton St Cyres, said she wanted to see more practical science undertaken with academics and farmers working together.
She has been working with Richard Soffe, director of the Rural Business School at Duchy College, Cornwall, to set up cheese consultants.
Prof Toby Mottram, Douglas Bomford chairman of applied farm mechanisation at the Royal Agricultural University, spoke about moving towards a 20,000-litre cow.
Prof Mottram, who has been working with Defra on its agricultural greenhouse platform, said dairy farmers needed to concentrate on better management and nutrition, fertility, housing and silage and the use of grass to help boost yields.