24 March 2000

Beet drilling in UK still surging ahead

OVER half the UK sugar beet crop was drilled by last weekend.

In one factory area three-quarters was done, prompting British Sugar to brand progress to date as an excellent start to the season.

"To have 52% of the crop in by March 18 is good news," says BSs Paul Bee. Only 7% was sown by the same time last year.

"The optimum drilling window is March 10 to April 10 and we are well on target to being drilled up by April 10."

Main concern is that earlier sowing puts more of the crop at risk of bolting. But 40 cool days with air temperatures below 12C (54F) are needed to trigger a significant bolting problem, notes Mr Bee. "With the forecast less settled after mid-week we have been encouraging everyone to drill as fast as possible."

IACR Brooms Barn suggests that in an average season bolting-resistant varieties sown after Mar 10 are unlikely to get sufficient cool days for bolting to become troublesome.

Scarcity of over-winter frosts has meant less surface mould so that seed-beds have been harder to obtain than usual. "But we are seeing some very good ones," says Mr Bee.

Furthest ahead by last Saturday were growers in the Bardney area, with 76% done. Next best were those around Bury, with 70%.

After a slow start Ipswich had picked up well to match York on 66%.

But Wissington growers and those on the heavier land at Cantley had managed only 34%. Least progress, mainly because of damp soils, had been made in the west midlands, with Allscott on 30% and Kidderminster, with barely a fifth of its area drilled.

In 1998 41% of the UK crop had been sown by the same time. &#42