British Research on Sugarbeet

Published online: Apr 22, 2007 Sugar Producer Staff
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New British research finds that leaving two sugarbeet rows in every 100 unsprayed, mitigates any adverse effects of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant sugarbeet on food for farmland birds. British government's farm scale evaluation (FSE) trials of GM herbicide tolerant sugarbeet found the technology could potentially have an adverse impact on food for farmland birds if a `weed-free' management approach was adopted. However, a new report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society says research confirms leaving two crop rows in every 100 unsprayed is a low-cost and simple way to avoid adverse impacts on bird populations. "This demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that GMHT (genetically modified herbicide-tolerant) beet can be economically and environmentally beneficial," research team leader John Pidgeon of the government Broom's Barn Research Station in Suffolk says. "It's a win-win situation for sustainable agriculture." Organizations such as English Nature and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had been concerned that the use of glyphosate would reduce seed availability for bird food in the fall. Leaving two rows in every 100 unsprayed results in the same number and spectrum of weeds - including valuable bird feed sources - as were found in the conventional FSE beet crop trials. Pidgeon says yields from GMHT beet would still be higher than conventional beet. "This work adds a new perspective to future discussions about the benefits from GMHT sugarbeet that the public, environmentalists and farmers should all be interested in," he says. To obtain wildlife benefits in spring, the researchers improved timing of herbicide application to maximize both crop yields and the benefits from leaving weeds between crop rows. Maximizing yields removes barriers to farmer up-take. However, autumn environmental benefits are more important, as autumn weeds provide seeds for bird food and for recharging weed seed banks. The research demonstrates a system that gives maximum crop yield and increased weed seed availability - up to 16 fold - compared to previous GM or conventional management systems tested in the government's recent FSE trials. "The new system is extremely simple in comparison, it involves applying the first spray fairly early and omitting the second spray - making additional cost and pesticide savings on top of the already large savings compared to conventional practice," the researchers say. The research involved four field trials over two years.