31 May 1996

Beet men keep fingers crossed for a kind June

SUGAR beet growers are banking on a warm, wet June to offset one of the coldest Mays on record which has left most crops a fortnight behind schedule.

Although British Sugar remains optimistic about the eventual outcome, much depends on the weather in next few weeks, says the firms John Prince. Above average June rainfall and temperatures were almost entirely responsible for the 82 record crop, he notes.

Despite generally good establishment many crops have only six true leaves against the expected eight by now, he says. "The implication for yield is difficult to tell – potentially the effect is still only marginal."

At 1400ha (3450 acres) this years figure for re-drilling is one of the lowest ever, he adds. "In spite of frosts, thrips and mice early on, the crop is in reasonably fine fettle."

Cold, rather than lack of moisture, has been the main check to growth, says Mike May of Norfolks Morley Research Station.

Normally the Wymondham site expects one air frost and five ground frosts in May. "In the first 21 days, we had eight air frosts and 19 ground frosts," says Mr May. "April was warmer."

Main technical concern is the impact of weed-killing operations from now on, especially on thrips hit stands, he warns.

"If crops start to grow away rapidly, they will soften up. There is then a risk of herbicide damage unless growers change the strength of their mixtures." Best advice is to reduce the dose of high contact products or cut the rate of oil additive, he suggests.

Farm reports

The 137ha (340 acres) of beet at Brewers Oak, Shifnal, Staffs, drilled in the ideal slot of Mar 10 to Apr 4, are well behind in growth stage, reports grower Frank Dakin. "It has been cold but we have probably had more rain than the east. Crops are certainly not as advanced as last year, but they look very well. Personally I feel that on our light soils, prospects are better than last year provided we get more rain."

Sugar beet is recovering slowly from frost and cold winds at Stratton Streles Estates, Colby, near Norwich, says Bill Poortvliet.

"Theres a good plant and although weve not had much rain there is enough moisture in the soil to keep them going. All we want is warmth."

Plants are at the six-leaf stage, about two weeks behind last year, he reckons. Although drilling was spread between Mar 20 and Apr 4 there is now little difference in growth stage. "The potential is there, but time is ticking away."

Sentry farming regional director Richard Peck is happy with his crops, especially those on Lincs silt.

"Cold, dry weather has certainly inhibited growth, but I am not unduly concerned. We had 8mm of rain over the weekend, which has rejuvenated it no end."

His Norfolk farms received more rain, and crops are picking up well. But one light blowing sand field has been re-drilled twice.


Early weed flushes have been controlled well. "We did anticipate problems due to the cold weather, but chemical performance has been excellent," says Mr Peck.