Seed processing is one of the factors under scrutiny as scientists try to find out why sugar beet crops failed to emerge properly following the coldest March for more than 50 years.

Emergence problems have affected at least six seed varieties across all four beet factory areas in eastern England. Growers have been forced to redrill crops or face an uncertain harvest. In some cases, beet populations are well under half the targeted 100,000 plants/ha.

Because so many seed varieties from different breeding companies have been affected, the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) has been able to rule out varietal problems. It is now commissioning an independent review in a bid to uncover the cause.

Different seed lots and seed with different treatments used on farm during 2013 would be collected and tested under conditions that aimed to recreate the challenging environment in the field this spring, said BBRO lead scientist Mark Stevens.

This would include variables such as drilling depth, temperature, water, soil and light – as well as comparing primed and unprimed seed, said Dr Stevens. “There will be a number of areas we need to look at – and that will be one area we do need to look at.”

Seed for all sugar beet grown for British Sugar in the UK is primed and pelleted by Germains Seed Technology, a Norfolk processor owned by British Sugar parent company ABF. Germains told Farmers Weekly all seed it processed passed stringent tests.

 

Gerrard Mulqueen, business unit manager for sugar beet at Germains, said he hoped test results would be available within a matter of weeks. But Dr Stevens suggested weeks could turn into months before the research was completed.

Asked whether he was confident priming could be ruled out, Dr Mulqueen said it would be wrong to speculate. “Clearly, we are trying to gather as much information as we can rather than speculating as to what some of the causes may be.”

Earlier, a Germains statement said all the seed it processed for the UK market underwent rigorous tests and quality assurance controls for germination, which were externally recognised by and accredited to the International Seed Testing Association standard.

“Average laboratory germination across all varieties was 97.8% in line with that of previous years and well in excess of the 90% germination specification agreed with industry stakeholders,” said the statement.

More on this topic

VIDEO: Sugar beet seed ‘passed strict tests’