12 December 1997

Beet – crop of decade?

SUGAR beet must be the crop of the season, if not the decade.

We loaded a further 16 lorries on Monday, Nov 24, to bring our adjusted weight of beet delivered to within 90% of our A and B quota.

A total of 784t of dirty beet with an average total tare of 13% and a sugar content of 17.9%, has produced 799 adjusted tonnes to date.

Haulage contractors, Mountains of Sleaford, returned on Monday, Dec 1, to clean and load 17 more lorries for dispatch to Newark, the results of which will not be known for a day or two.

We estimate that we have now moved two-thirds of the crop (50 loads) leaving four loads in the clamp and around 7.5ha (18.5 acres) in the field still to harvest.

The harvesting is carried out in three phases to coincide with the A1 Farmers group loading schedule. Members of the group sit down before the start of the season to work out a loading rota which tries to take into account members sugar beet areas, soil types and rotational requirements.

In his stride

Group secretary Andrew Sharpley takes in his stride the vagaries of the weather, the whims of the members and the wiles of the sugar beet fieldsman, whose job it is to sift through the weight of requests for extra permits.

The Easton Lodge allocation for this season was 58 loads: this could be exceeded by a factor of 30% and Andrew has the task of persuading British Sugar to grant these extra permits before the factory closes in … March?

Of the first 33 loads moved last month approximately 60% was lifted in excellent conditions in early November and the balance three weeks later in a maul after a week of heavy rain. Interestingly, we can only see marginal differences in the effect on dirt tares and sugar content.

One area of difference, which will become apparent, is in the following crop. The 9.4ha (23 acres) of wheat which was drilled on Nov 12 after the first round of lifting, stands a good chance of producing an economic yield; but there is little hope for the rest.

The 8ha (20 acres) left after lifting on Nov 21 has had substantial rain on it since and will not be ploughed and drilled until ground conditions either dry up or freeze a little.

The cost of this loss of yield must be set against any gains one might have for having sugar beet in the rotation.

Having drilled all our other wheat land early we decided to sow our seed plots of C1 seed after sugar beet at the first opportunity.

The varieties chosen were Abbot, Malacca, Buster, Rialto and Charger, all single-purpose dressed and sown in 1ha plots at 100kg/ha. The remaining area was sown with Abbot home-saved seed dressed with Beret Gold and Birlane against wheat bulb fly and sown at 210kg/ha.

Rolling post-drilling has not been an option and any spraying of post-emergence herbicides will be reserved until the spring.

Following on from our comments regarding British Sugars proposals to reform the sugar beet contract (On Our Farms, Nov 21), I was glad to have the opportunity of attending a growers meeting at Newark last month.

Road shows

This was one of several road shows in which the NFU and in particular Matt Twidale, Chairman of the NFU Sugar Beet Committee, took the opportunity of briefing growers regarding the re-negotiation of the Inter Professional Agreement.

The meeting was well attended and the NFUs case well presented and I wish Mr Twidale and his colleagues well in their endeavour to negotiate a fairer deal for UK sugar beet growers.

It must be the conference season! Last week I took a day out to attend the Crops Conference, organised by our sister magazine.

A varied programme dealing with grain marketing, farm assurance schemes, costs of production, Genetically modified organisms and a snapshot of French farming in the Paris basin, all preceded by a lack lustre performance by the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Lord Donoughue, standing in for Jack Cunningham, who no doubt was composing his address to the nation about beef bones.

On the subject of grain marketing, like many others I could use some helpful hints, but the speakers solution appeared to be merchant pools – a concept I have yet to embrace with comfort.

Into action

The next paper by Richard Beldam, a farmer from Worcestershire, on the assured combinable crops scheme, has since spurred me into action.

I am not one who enjoys the endless form filling, record keeping and bureaucracy with which we have to contend these days, but given that most thinking and caring farmers are already complying with the majority of the criteria of such a scheme, then we should at least examine it with open minds.

At Easton Lodge we have registered and been certificated for FABL and received into the in-house assurance scheme of &#42 Hargrave & Co of Spalding following a farm audit.

Early in the New Year we will have completed all necessary repairs and modifications to enable us to pass inspection for the FAB pigs scheme.

So why not combinable crops, or, better still, why not a whole farm assurance scheme? As Mr Beldam concluded: "Dont regard it as a problem but as an opportunity and a challenge."

The 25-year-old borehole, which supplies us with water, was beginning to show signs of collapse so we felt it was time to drill a fresh one. Work on a new borehole was carried out under the watchful eye of Pettifer Draining and Water Services and drilling contractor George Lack and Sons.