Drilling sugar beet© Tim Scrivener

Sugar beet is making its debut on one Essex farm this spring, after almost all the oilseed rape drilled last autumn was wiped out by drought and flea beetles.

Farm manager John Haynes, is in charge of three farms totalling about 1,200ha for MJ and SC Collins, based near Harlow on the Essex/Hertfordshire border.

He tells Farmers Weekly that exceptionally dry conditions and immense flea beetle pressure in the autumn saw about 350ha of oilseed rape lost.

He says an emergency assessment of alternative break crops led him to opt for 110ha of sugar beet for the first time, with the crop destined for the British Sugar factory in Bury St Edmunds, roughly 60 miles away.

See also: Soya beans offer strong returns and prime blackgrass control

“Despite being a root crop, the price [for sugar beet] stands up and it has benefits for blackgrass control. We thought we were winning the battle on blackgrass, but then last year we had an explosion of it again.

“You’re not going to have nice, clean fields with beet, but trials do show that it helps with blackgrass control.”

Beet establishment got under way at the weekend in good conditions, with a small acreage still waiting to be drilled.

Mr Haynes says he doesn’t think oilseed rape will be included in the farm’s rotation next season, adding that the price of rapeseed would need to be more than £500/t to make him think again.

Sugar beet isn’t the only new crop in the farm’s rotation, however, as 80ha of soya beans will be drilled to help mop up the area formerly taken up by the failed oilseed rape.