23 November 2001

EASTON LODGE

Beet results not too bad

I SUPPOSE we can consider ourselves fortunate for having had beet in the clamp for only 24 days between lifting and hauling into the now notorious Wissington factory.

Certainly our haulage contractor made light work of the 18 loads moved on Nov 7 and 8 once he got hold of the permits.

Out of an A + B quota contract of 904t we have delivered 528 adjusted tonnes. The figures do not look at all bad: Average sugar content is 17.3%; amino N levels average 83 and the total tare figure is down this year to 11%, of which the top element is 8%. The table compares this years figures with November-delivered sugar beet last year.

As for the filtration problem at British Sugars factory at Wissington, I understand that beet is now being redirected to Cantley in Norfolk and Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in a desperate effort to avoid the spectre of factories still being open next March and the high cost of paying farmers compensation for loss of income due to spoilt beet, reduced sugars, loss of weight and poor yields in the following crop.

Of course we do not yet know the level of compensation being offered, but I feel sure that our NFU representatives will be negotiating a fair settlement on our behalf.

It would be foolish of me, however, to be too disappointed if all this comes to nought as I suspect it might, for no doubt BSs argument would be that as growers we can afford to take some of the pain as well.

Certainly the cheque received by BACS into our bank account this week as full and final settlement for the 2000/2001 campaign has helped swell the gross margin for last years sugar beet enterprise to just over £902/ha (£365/acre).

Our gross output on 19.56ha (48 acres) grown was £30,833, inclusive of late delivery bonuses and transport allowances but net of all levies, or £1576/ha (£638/acre). Variable costs, include the usual inputs of seed, fertiliser and sprays plus contract charges for lifting, cleaning, loading and haulage, amounted to £13,185 or £674/ha (£273/acre).

This gross margin compares favourably with wheat for 2000 harvest at £850/ha (£344/acre) and the average for all combinable crops grown that year of £751/ha (£304/acre). This was a season when the yield penalty for growing wheat after sugar beet barely dented our overall performance – the gross margin for these later sown wheats was in fact £829/ha (£335/acre), which was less than a 2.5% difference.

But what a marked difference for harvest 2001 when the differential between normally drilled wheat and that sown after sugar beet was £144/ha (£58/acre), representing a yield penalty of 18.6%. That loss of income must be accounted for by the sugar beet crop, which, in this particular year, would drag the gross margin down to the level of the all combinable crops average.

Sugar beet is a higher risk crop than cereals, pulses or oilseeds with substantial levels of variable inputs. Not to mention the hidden costs associated with the damage to soil structure and farm road infrastructure. It is essential if we are to have a viable industry in this country that the processor recognises these facts and makes a fair remuneration to growers for their commitment.

We have run into problems with the effects of herbicide damage on winter barley. We applied a mix of trifluralin, isoproturon, diflufenican and cypermethrin on Oct 24 in a month when we had 89.7mm (3.5in) of rain. The levels of IPU were about 1625g/ha of active ingredient and although we rolled the crop between sowing in the first weeks of October and spraying three weeks later, we did manage an interval of 10 days.

The UK Pesticide Guide warns "crop damage may occur on free draining stony soils if heavy rain falls soon after spraying, damage may also occur if spraying takes place within a period of rapid growth". We seem to have breached some of the crop safety restrictions albeit inadvertently and paid the price.

Had we have sprayed glyphosate to a field of volunteers I would have been fairly satisfied with the result. But since this was a field of malting barley I am far from impressed. We must hope that the crop will recover but when added to the lateness of drilling and poor seed-beds this is an added set-back we could have well done without. &#42

Easton Lodge sugar

beet statistics

Season 2000 2001

Sugar (%) 16.4 17.3

Amino N 118 83

Total tare (%) 14 11

Top tare (%) 8 8

Pressing on with preparations for next years sugar beet crop. After applying 2000cu m of muck from the Easton Lodge pig unit three weeks ago to 19ha (47 acres) of stubble, the land is ploughed and pressed.