29 January 1999

Beet men praised

UK sugar beet growers can pat themselves on the back, according to British Sugar.

Despite the winter wash-out only 1% of the national crop remained unlifted at the start of the week, it says.

"15% is in clamps and 84% has been processed," said spokesman Paul Bee. "Last year at the same time there was still 2% in the ground."

UK harvest progress has been especially good, compared with the rest of Europe, says Mr Bee, thanks partly to growing the crop on lighter land.

For the first time in many years six EU countries will not meet their quotas directly, and even with restored block supplies Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal will still fail to do so, he notes.

"The effect on C beet prices is still unknown, but with an estimated 1m tonnes less for the EU to export onto the world market it can only be a good thing."

UK average sugar content at 17.47% is slightly up on last year, and top tares are a bit lower at 6.5%. But the difficult conditions are reflected in higher dirt tares – 6.4% against 5.4%.

"Farmers have coped well and we are very happy with beet quality. The wet year allowed the crop to make good use of nutrients. And as far as I am aware there has not been any frosted beet."

Overall yield is too soon to call, says Mr Bee. "But it looks like being a shade above the five year average which includes last years best ever."

Operations support manager Robin Limb believes introduction of new machinery and growers perseverance has transformed the UK scene. "70% of the UK crop is now harvested by six-row tanker harvesters which are undoubtedly better at recovering the crop.

"It has been a successful campaign despite the wet weather. It could have been absolute carnage without the new technology."

Even in Yorks and parts of the West Midlands where some crops were not sown until May and yield lost, the overall picture may not be as bad as first suspected because of higher than normal sugar levels, he adds.

Kidderminster factory is expected to stop processing at the end of the month, but the last to do so, probably Wissington, should remain open until the end of February.

Beet campaign.

&#8226 Only 1% unlifted in UK.

&#8226 Sugar & dirt levels up.

&#8226 Technology saviour.

&#8226 1m tonne EU shortfall.

BEET CAMPAIGN

&#8226 Only 1% unlifted in UK.

&#8226 Sugar & dirt levels up.

&#8226 Technology saviour.

&#8226 1m tonne EU shortfall.