Graphic shows Europen sugar beet production.


Disease threat to Europe’s sugar crop

By Duncan Mil

July 8, 2020 - A virus outbreak has hit Europe’s struggling sugar farmers, already dealing with historically low prices, an insecticide ban and a mild winter which has exacerbated the presence of aphids.

Fighting beet yellows virus (BYV) has become harder since the European Union introduce a ban on using neonicotinoids -- insecticides blamed for killing bees -- in 2018.

Aphids transmit the yellowing virus. Infections usually appear on individual plants or as small yellow patches in the field which expand as the season progresses and the disease spreads.

BYV infection reduces the photosynthetic area of leaves, reducing sugar content and causing yield losses of up to 50 per cent.

The EU is the world’s third-largest sugar producer. In the 2018-19 growing season, the 19 EU nations that grow beet produced 17.62 million tonnes of sugar. The largest producers were France, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, producing 5.29, 4.2, 2.19 and 1.14 million tonnes respectively. The United Kingdom follows with 1.13 million tonnes.

The threat of BYV could hit French production by as much as 25 per cent in the coming season. Losses could reach up to 30 per cent in Germany and 50 per cent in Belgium, according to Bloomberg.

European producers have already taken a hit from low sugar prices and falling consumption caused by the European lock-down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The hospitality sector has been decimated, with bars, restaurants and hotels forced to close, and sport and social events postponed.

All these factors look bleak for producers who were hoping low prices were a thing of the past.

PUBLISHED: 08/07/2020; STORY: Graphic News; PICTURES: Picture: British Beet Research Organisation
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