Advice to stop virus yellows in sugar beet

Agronomy Issues

Young sugar beet plants with a high proportion of soft leaf tissue during early growth are particularly susceptible to the transmission of infections responsible for virus yellows, warns Syngenta Technical Manager, Simon Jackson. Even through to late June, high aphid numbers being found in crops would warrant an Afinto treatment at threshold levels, with many crops still to reach the 12-leaf stage. 

This season's delayed sugar beet planting campaign and slow establishment in cold and wet conditions could result in crops' emerging at a time that coincides with warmer weather and greater aphid pest activity. 

Follow results of BBRO aphid trap catches

Growers will need to be highly alert to the threat of early aphid activity, principally the feeding of peach potato aphid (Myzus persicae) that is most widely associated with virus transmission. Crops not protected with a thiamethoxam (Cruiser) seed treatment, under emergency authorisation, before planting will be especially vulnerable. 

Early infection with virus leads to significantly greater yield losses over the season, as well as increased risk from other foliar diseases.

BBRO advice

BBRO has highlighted how the temperatures in January and February were the most reliable prediction of virus yellows infection levels – and that the mild conditions then indicated a severe year that triggered the seed treatment threshold. Even the extreme cold snap in December was expected to have had only limited influence on infection levels.

Fields drilled with Cruiser treated seed should have good protection for the first six to eight weeks after planting, but where growth has been slow could require a follow-up application of Afinto to see crops through to the 12-leaf stage, where later infection has far less serious consequences.

Monitoring of aphid activity in fields will give a better indication of when to initiate an insect control programme, starting when the first wingless aphids are identified.

It's important to be extra vigilant for aphids in crops along hedgerows and around field headlands.

Resistance management      

Crops without a seed treatment are more likely to require a two-spray insecticide programme, given the specific risks of the season that could see the 12-leaf stage not reached until late June.

In this scenario growers can still apply a neonicotinoid foliar spray in the programme, with Afinto followed by acetamiprid, for example, as a good option.

If applying a two-spray strategy, it is important to alternate chemistry and use resistance management strategies to minimise the risk of issues developing further, particularly with Myzus persicae populations (below).

With virus yellows occurring from a complex of different viruses - Beet Yellows Virus (BYV), Beet Chlorosis Virus (BChV) and Beet Mild Yellowing Virus (BMYV) - insecticides such as Afinto that quickly stop feeding activity are more effective at preventing the persistent pathogens, although not so essential for semi- or non-persistent types. 

Rothamsted insect monitoring    

Tracking aphid populations through the Rothamsted Insect Survey or BBRO Aphid Survey can give a useful guide to regional risks for timing and insecticide strategies. In 2020, for example, infection rates with virus yellows varied from over 60% of crops around the Wissington factory in King’s Lynn, to just 6% of crops surrounding the Cantley factory near Norwich.

Research has shown that beet leaves affected by virus yellows can be more susceptible to alternaria infection, as well as Cercospora that can lead to even greater yield losses.

Crops that are affected by virus will require greater protection through the Priori Gold fungicide programme and Quantis stress relief to minimise the effects. 

Fodder beet guidance

Growers of fodder beet and biofuel beet growers should be aware of the implication for aphid transmission of virus yellows for crop health and yields, and adopt the same strategies as sugar beet to maximise yields and crop performance.