Fine weather has allowed sugar beet drilling to make a very early start and by this weekend (8-9 March), about 25% of the total crop is expected to be in the ground, according to British Sugar.

“We’ve been advocating starting drilling on 1 March for several years now, but this year ground was fit from February,” BS’s Robin Limb said. “We expect most crops to be drilled around the middle of March.”

This time last year no beet had been drilled, as wet weather severely hampered fieldwork, he noted.

Provided reasonable growing conditions, the earlier start this season (and therefore more time for crops to intercept light) could add up to an extra 10% in yield, Mr Limb suggested. “The benefits are massive if we can get earlier sowing.”

He acknowledged that due to recent cold weather and bolting fears, some growers might be cautious about drilling too early, but said it was easy to be overcautious. “Ideally soils should be over 5C, but bolting risk is to do with temperatures after plants have emerged, not before. By then conditions should be warmer.”

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