Wet weather has disrupted sugar beet and potato planting in many northern and western areas, but there is no need to panic yet, say experts.

As at 3 April, British Sugar estimated that just over half (51%) of the national beet crop was in the ground, compared with 66% last year.

But this masks considerable variation across the country, with around three-quarters completed in East Anglia, compared with just 5% in Yorkshire, said BS’s Colin Walters.

“Soil temperatures aren’t a problem, but many were hit by showers last week and soils just haven’t dried out enough.

Overall we’re slightly behind normal, so as soon as conditions become fit, take the earliest opportunity to get going.

He urged growers not to force crops into wet seedbeds.

“The majority of yield drop-off doesn’t occur unless drilling is delayed until the end of the month.”

This was echoed by NIAB’s Simon Kerr who said cold and wet weather meant only five of NIAB’s 16 nationwide sugar beet trials had been sown by the start of the week.

“We are later than normal, but in some previous years we hadn’t even started by now.”

Provided crops could be drilled before mid-April they should suffer little yield penalty, he maintained.

Frosts would not be a problem, provided beet have not emerged, he said.

“The main concern with crops just sitting there in the cold is they are more susceptible to mice.”

Potato planting is also fairly mixed, although overall progress is on track, according to the British Potato Council’s Rob Burrow.

By Monday (3 April), some 14,900ha was in the ground nationally, compared with 14,500ha last year, he said.

Eastern counties – particularly Norfolk and Suffolk – made most progress with 11,000ha planted, compared with 6000ha in 2005, he said.

“Soil conditions have been excellent and it’s been drier than elsewhere.”

In contrast only about 250ha had been planted in Scotland.

While this is on a par with last year in terms of area, recent wet and cold conditions mean crop development was about one to two weeks behind, he said.

paul.spackman@rbi.co.uk