French farmers protest with their tractors in Paris against the EU pesticide ban and other environmental regulations they say will threaten agricultural production. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED BADRA


France to allow farmers more pesticide to protect sugar output


French sugar beet farmers will be allowed to use more pesticide this year due to a high risk of attacks from an insect carrying a disease that ravaged crops in 2020, France’s deputy agriculture minister said on Friday.

Environment group Greenpeace voiced its opposition to the use of more potentially toxic pesticide while beet growers said the move was not enough and called for other products to be approved.

Beet growers will be allowed five applications of Spirotetramat, developed by Bayer CropScience BAYE.NS under the brand Movento, up from two currently, with three applications allowed initially and two more if needed, Deputy Agriculture Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told France Bleu Nord radio.

This is in addition to ISK Bioscience’s flonicamid-based pesticide Teppeki, which has been in use for years, the farm ministry said separately.

“With a mild winter, we have a very high risk of aphids multiplying and therefore of yellows disease on sugar beets,” Pannier-Runacher said.

“Beet is sugar. We are not going to import more sugar without taking care of this risk, so our objective is to give solutions to farmers.”

Beet yellows is transmitted by aphids and can cause severe yield losses.

An outbreak of it in 2020 led to a 26 per cent fall in French sugar output, prompting the government to allow sugar beet growers to use a pesticide called neonicotinoids banned in the European Union over risks to bees.

France had to drop that exemption last year after an EU court said it was illegal, but farmers and scientists say alternatives as effective are not ready yet.

“It is good news but the products that are proposed are not efficient enough, knowing that we are talking of a risk similar to that of 2020,” Franck Sander, chairman of French sugar beet growers group CGB, told Reuters.

CGB asked the government to approve the use of acetamiprid, a neonicotinoid applied on leaves, and flupyradifurone. The two pesticides are approved by the EU but banned in France.

Greenpeace said Movento was suspected by the EU to be toxic for animals and noted that there was no proof that five applications of the pesticide were not toxic for plants and humans.

France’s sugar beet area is expected to rebound slightly this year, after a 6 per cent drop to a 14-year low in 2023, as farmers are encouraged by high sugar prices.