British Sugar is optimistic for 2008 beet crop production despite the cold wet March and significant drilling delays.

Agricultural development manager Robin Limb estimated that a fifth of this spring’s 115,000ha (284,000 acres) was unsown by Monday, and acknowledged that much of the potential advantage from early sowing had been “watered down” by slow emergence.

“‘Concern’ is too strong a word to use,” he said. In the Newark factory area up to 95% was drilled, though around Cantley the figure was only 50%. “If it all gets drilled this week the average sowing date will only be late March. A lot of beet is already up.”

Despite a good start, most growers struggled for sowing windows after 10 March, noted Broom’s Barn’s Mike May. All beet grew slowly, first drillings taking a month to come through.

“Most early-sown crops will be no more advanced than beet sown in late March in other seasons. Emergence appears reasonable, but we’ll have to wait for the temperatures to rise to see how all those drillings fared.”

The effects of soil slumping and water-logging caused by twice the average March rainfall in some areas also remained to be seen.

Slowly emerging crops were vulnerable to pests, including birds. But the cool March reduced mouse activity and, with most seed insecticide-treated, plant losses should not be severe. “Slugs may become an issue,” he added.

The 10% yield edge from sowing on 1 March instead of 31 March had largely gone. But well established, early sowings would still have an advantage, Mr May believed. “It’s frustrating. Those who drilled early will not get as good a yield as the drilling conditions then signalled. However, they are still likely to achieve better yields than those who don’t drill until April.”

Beyond 10 April losses accelerated to about 3t/ha per week’s delay, he said. “It’s still a case of drill when conditions are suitable and don’t force seed-beds.”

Only if growers were certain of poor final establishment (say below 60,000 beet a hectare or perhaps below 70,000 if very gappy) should they consider redrilling, advised Mr May, and then only if the weather meant crops would establish quickly.

“Patching is only worthwhile if the patch is one you can manage separately for herbicide inputs if necessary.”

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 Good drilling windows like this were rare beyond the middle of March.

‘Out of the wood’ in Suffolk

A week ago Robert Baker was seriously concerned for his 89ha (210 acres) of beet on mainly heavy land at Crossways Farm, Elmswell, Suffolk. But with the crop at long last emerging, he hoped to avoid his first-ever resowing, though yield would inevitably be cut.

“We started drilling on 28 February – our earliest ever – in perfect conditions and it was all done in a week.” But by 3 April the crop had hardly emerged from the capped land. Showers last weekend loosened the cap, and by Monday the emergence figure had passed the 40-50 resowing threshold.

“It’s still early days, but I think we’re out of the wood.”

On the Norfolk/Suffolk border, former Barometer farmer John Barrett acknowledged output would suffer at Hill House Farm, Hedenham. “We started drilling on 3 March, but we’ve still got 60 of 330 acres left to do.”

Norfolk Farmer Focus writer Jim Alston, who admitted missing a chance to begin his 89ha (220 acres) last week, was becoming “concerned” at the potential yield penalty.