Arable News

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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Questions over beet establishment problems remain

By Dominic Kilburn

Speaking at the recent BBRO summer open day held at Thorney, near Peterborough, BBRO lead scientist Mark Stevens has said that there is no point in speculating about the cause of the poor establishment of some sugar beet crops this spring, until a full investigation has been completed, and he warned growers that it might be months before any firm answers are found. Theres absolutely no consistency in those crops that have been affected and it would be wrong to speculate at this point in time.

He stressed that he had witnessed poor establishment in all of the leading varieties on the Recommended List this season and that it was certainly not a problem that should be attributed to Cayman alone, one of the first varieties to be identified as having establishment issues this spring.

Ive just been walking through a field of Cayman in west Suffolk which was drilled on 6th March and its looking fantastic, he pointed out. The variety is one of the most widely grown, and also sown early, and so it is not surprising that it was one of the first varieties to be identified.

Mark said that a series of cold tests will be carried out to try and get to the bottom of the problem and independent laboratories would be involved, feeding information back to the BBRO. BBRO will lead the investigation and pass on the information to the industry, but we are talking months rather than weeks before we might possibly have answers.

He reminded growers to continue to monitor crops, particularly those which had been re-drilled more recently following wind blow, which had also affected crop establishment this spring. If they think they have a problem then they should take photos, record the seed lots and make notes of all the treatments carried out. The more information we have the better chance we have of finding the answer.

Also speaking at the BBRO open day, head of BBRO Colin MacEwan estimated that there had been approximately 100 formal complaints from growers regarding crop establishment by the middle of May. The problems seem to stem from a range of drilling dates in crops planted up to 8th April, he pointed out, and the BBRO will review all possible factors that may have caused it including seed vigour, seed treatment loadings, temperatures and soil conditions.

British Sugars head of commercial agriculture, Richard Nicholls, who also sits on the BBRO R&D board, said that the majority of the crop is fine however the poor establishment has been more pronounced where soil temperatures were coldest. As well as low establishment levels of 5070,000 plants/ha, we are also seeing poor growth in those crops affected.

Seed priming technology

With growers raising concerns about the emergence of their sugar beet crops, particularly in earlier sown fields, beet seed priming company Germains put out a statement saying that early indications suggest that the issue has been strongly influenced by this years unusually cold spring weather. Germains, which produces Xbeet seed priming technology for all sugar beet crops planted for British Sugar in the UK, said that it was working very closely with its customers, the NFU and British Sugar, and with the BBRO and the seed breeders to evaluate and understand the cause.

What about the price?

NFU sugar board chairman and beet grower, William Martin, said that it was impossible to tell at this stage as to what had caused the poor establishment in some crops this spring. The weather hasnt helped, for sure everything on the farm is struggling, he pointed out.

Its important that we do the impartial tests to find the answers, to learn from them and avoid the same thing happening again in the future.

William added that the new sugar beet price would be announced at Cereals and that he was confident that British Sugar understood what growers needed.

I think British Sugars managing director Richard Pike has made a good effort to get on farm and speak to growers and so I am hopeful that this is a good sign.


  • Written by: Farmers Guide
  • Posted:
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