The sugar beet harvest is getting back on course after wet weather delayed lifting in December, according to British Sugar.

Unusually wet weather last month disrupted harvest and soggy field conditions prevented many farmers from lifting beet.

Farmers in low-lying areas with land still flooded were this week continuing to report problems lifting the crop. However, those on higher fields, where soils have drained quickly, were back harvesting.

British Sugar said this year’s sugar beet lifting campaign was about 60% complete and factories were processing beet as normal.

A spokesman for the company said: “All arable crops have faced challenging harvesting conditions this year and sugar beet has been no exception. Growers, hauliers and harvesting contractors deserve great credit for keeping factories supplied with beet under difficult conditions.

“Harvesters have resumed operations following the Christmas period and factories are well supplied with beet. The campaign is expected to finish around the normal time at the end of February.”

Cambridgeshire grower John Goodchild said the sugar beet harvest was about 80% complete on Wednesday (9 January) when usually it would be about 85% finished by now.

“It has been one of the wettest autumns I can remember for beet-lifting. We have probably lost up to 10 days when we couldn’t get on because it was too wet,” he said.

“But we have just had our best run of dry weather – about a week – which has helped.

“I’ve got about 1,200 acres still to harvest, which is achievable if the weather does not go bananas from now on. We have still got some heavy land – about 250 acres – on boulder clay that does worry me.”

Mr Goodchild said yields were “up and down” and ranging between 65 and 80t/ha with typically about 17% sugar content.

“It’s a case of no sun, no sugar – that’s the tale of this season,” he added.

Lincolnshire beet contractor Andrew Baxter, of JH Baxter and Sons at Sleaford, had about 525ha (1,300 acres) of 2,830ha (7,000 acres) of sugar beet left to harvest on Wednesday (9 January).

“We run four big tanker machines and they have all been working now since the end of last week,” he said.

“But there are still a lot of fields where we have not been able to go out due to the wet conditions.”It’s easing a bit and the weather forecast is better. I just feel sorry for beet growers in Yorkshire where many fields are still under water. They’re having a difficult time supplying factories.”

  • The British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) hosts its 2013 Winter Conference at The Exec Centre in Peterborough on 5 February.

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