Arable News

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Beet research outlined at BBRO technical event

The first of the British Beet Research Organisation’s (BBRO) winter Technical Meetings was staged near Cambridge in early February

The first of the British Beet Research Organisation’s (BBRO) winter Technical Meetings was staged near Cambridge in early February. Dominic Kilburn reports.
Updating delegates at the first of the recently held British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) Technical Meetings was BBRO lead scientist Mark Stevens (left) , who warned that, due to the mild winter, growers could expect to see high levels of pests in crops this season, as well as high disease pressure.
“There were high numbers of the virus yellows vector aphid, myzus persicae, in 2015 and while neonicotinoid seed treatments remain effective at stopping them, if they were carrying the virus then we could have big problems,” he said.

Neonic Loss
Dr Stevens suggested that the loss of neonicotinoid use in other crops such as oilseed rape could be a factor regarding high numbers of aphids, as could be their resistance to pyrethroid sprays.
“We continue with the virus yellows forecasting and hope that, despite the increase in regulatory pressure, we can continue to use neonicotinoids to control aphids and virus yellows in the beet crop,” said Dr Stevens.
He added that BBRO trials in Grimston, Norfolk took place in 2015 to look at alternative options (with potential off-label approval) for the control of myzus persicae in sugar beet crops.

Soil and rooting
University of Nottingham Associate Professor in Agronomy, Dr Debbie Sparkes (left). outlined some details of a five-year project (which started in 2014) being carried out by the University on behalf of the BBRO, and focusing on soil and sugar beet rooting.
Recent work, she said, had confirmed that, in glasshouse tests, the roots of sugar beet plants had struggled in non-limiting conditions to access water at depths below 1m, by comparison to those at shallower depths.
This had mirrored results of similar work carried out in 1985, where, although roots achieved a depth of 1m and deeper, the deeper roots were unable to extract much of the available water in the soil. It was suggested that this was due to deep roots following existing rooting channels rather than exploring the whole soil profile.
“Water is the main limitation to yield in the UK sugar beet crop,” said Dr Sparkes, who pointed out that in an average rainfall year, a 10 per cent loss in yield can occur due to a lack of water and, in the driest areas, this could rise to over a 25 per cent loss in yield.
“Our work showed that when water is denied to the crop, moisture down to 70cm is taken up almost immediately, while very little moisture is taken up by roots at a 90cm depth until about 90 days after the water has been withdrawn.
“The plants take the easy gains of the water near the surface first, but they did not access water at 90cm until they really had to,” she added.
Dr Sparkes said that work will continue to look at ways to overcome rooting limitations of which cover crops could be one solution, she suggested. In addition, work in 2016 will further investigate genetic variation in rooting traits and whether fertiliser placement improves nitrogen uptake efficiency.

While the optimum plant population for sugar beet is well known, Dr Sparkes said that her team was also looking at the soil physical properties that determine crop establishment. In the long term, it aims to develop a tool, or sensor, which growers could use to predict establishment and hence facilitate decision making at drilling.

Post-quota era
Attending the event as a delegate was NFU Sugar Board chairman William Martin (left). Discussing the new era of sugar beet production post-quotas in 2017, he said that while it is unknown as to what extent the sugar beet price will change, growers shouldn’t be nervous about losing their contract to grow the crop. “For some reason we’ve always referred to the on-farm contract as quota, and so when we hear that quotas will end, some growers are thinking that their contracts will end too!
“British sugar will want contracts with growers and so if you already have one as a grower, then it won’t be a problem – there is no need to be nervous,” he added.

Two options
Mr Martin suggested that with a series of meetings currently taking place, it looks like there will be two options in terms of the sugar beet price after 2017.
“There is the option of continuing with the current system of a fixed price, or a system whereby growers have more of a stake in the market, so when the price rises, so does their reward.
“Some growers want to work closer with British Sugar and have more of a partnership feel about the relationship. I think growers are concerned about being taken for granted and, at the moment, they feel things aren’t quite fair. But there is an appetite for a partnership where both sides are committed, together.
“They realise that on the open market they will have to take the rough with the smooth, so perhaps a ‘half and half’ system – half of the crop price fixed, and half floating on the open market could be a way forward,” he added.

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