27 February 1998

A PRIME START FOR BEET…

Better seed coatings are

set to lift beet yields over

the next few years.

Edward Long reports

IMPROVED methods of seed priming and coatings which contain bio-control agents are likely to be offered to UK sugar beet growers within the next five years.

Not only will they boost production efficiency, they will also allow pesticide inputs to be cut, claims pelleting specialist Germains.

The US company established its European operation at Kings Lynn, Norfolk, after its clay-based Filcoat pellet enabled growers to precision drill monogerm seed. Since then it has developed the lighter EB pellet for the UK and Norfolk pelleted seed now used in Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Finland and some east European countries.

In future Germains hopes to include bio-control agents to combat virus-transmitting aphids and fungal diseases. Such materials are already being used on US cotton seed.

Sugar beet should be among the first of the main crops to exploit the new technology on this side of the Atlantic, says the company.

Meanwhile, its Advantage primed seed is proving increasingly useful to UK growers. The technique is based on research at Brooms Barn Experimental Station, Suffolk, and was commercialised by Germains.

It involves initiating germination, then stopping it just before the shoot breaks through the seed coat. The process steeps raw seed in Thiram, holds it under carefully controlled moisture and temperature conditions and then pellets and dries it.

Under stressful conditions treated stocks can emerge up to seven days earlier than unprimed seed, says Germains. But the gain is usually two to three days.

Another big benefit is more uniform emergence. That is because priming boosts the weakest seed most, helping it keep up with the rest of the seed in a batch.

Fewer "cock and hen" plants mean herbicide timings are more flexible, weed control more efficient and more evenly sized roots are easier to top without high tare losses.

Growers using Advantage seed also report fewer bolters. Although most modern varieties are reasonably bolting resistant, a cold spell can trigger trouble.

"It is thought a seeds inclination to bolt is partly genetic and partly determined by the seeds memory of cold conditions on the mother plant," says Germains marketing manager, Veronique Heyes.

"If seed meets similar cold conditions after it is harvested and sown it bolts. Our Advantage priming process wipes that seed memory, so it is less likely to follow its mothers example in a normal season."

In future more sophisticated priming techniques could be used to advance drilling even further. Processing could then start earlier, avoiding the need for factories to stay open until March. It may even allow the crop to be sown in the autumn, says Mrs Heyes.

Priming is already popular with growers on early land. Although just 5% of the UK beet crop was sown with Advantage seed last year, it accounted for up to 90% in some lightland parts of Norfolk.

Advantage is also popular where Gaucho treated seed is used for early drillings. "Rapid uptake of the systemic insecticide puts emerging plants under slight stress, slowing emergence by two to three days and reducing vigour," says Mrs Heyes. "Advantage cancels that and brings the Gaucho treated seed back to where it should be." &#42

BOOSTING BEET

&#8226 Priming gives earlier, more even emergence, leading to easier herbicide timings and lower harvest losses.

&#8226 Better priming will allow earlier harvesting and even over-wintered beet.

&#8226 Adding biological agents to beet seed pellets will boost pest and disease control.

Bio-control agents to combat pests and diseases will soon be included in seed coatings, says Germains Veronique Heyes.