12 April 2002

Beet unit gears up for fert placement

A REVIVAL of interest in fertiliser placement for sugar beet is encouraging one Norfolk grower to try the technique with the aid of his Väderstad Rapid 800P drill.

Poul Hoveson says his main objective is to maximise use of the machine by employing it both as part of the pre-drilling cultivation process and as a fertiliser distributor. He is also hoping for benefits from placing fertiliser below the seed.

Swedish beet growers, supported by Danisco, which buys their crop, have been working on placement using Rapid drills since the early 1990s. This has been driven in part by a fertiliser tax, which Scandinavian farmers already pay, and which is still a prospect in the UK.

Evidence from their work suggests that fertiliser application can be cut by up to 15% by placement while root weight and sugar content improve. Phosphate, in particular, becomes much more readily available to the plant.

In this country there was a brief flurry of interest in the technique some years ago but it was not sustained. Two years ago Mr Hoveson, farm manager for the 1700ha (4200 acre) Salle Farms Co at Reepham, having read up on the Swedish work, decided to use his Rapid drill to place fertiliser on 40ha (99 acres) of the 250ha (618 acres) of sugar beet land in the rotation.

The results, he says were encouraging. Compared to the conventionally treated area, he estimated he had a yield increase of about 5% – with a reduction in overall fertiliser use of 5%.

A cloddy surface may need a first pass with a cultivator to level it off but under normal conditions it should then be possible to achieve a tilth with the drill doubling as a cultivator while applying the fertiliser, he reasoned.

Running at about 20í to the eventual drilling line, the drill is set to place 250kg/ha of 12:11:18 fertiliser at a depth of 7-5cm below the seed when it has been sown, it being important the seed and fertiliser are in different soil layers.

Mr Hoveson admits that fertiliser is more difficult to meter than seed because of its much harder texture, but concedes that Väderstads recently modified seed metering unit on the Rapid drill was capable of dealing with this type of product.

"Putting fertiliser through the drill has, to date, led to no problems with corrosion or damage," he says. "Although it is essential a thorough cleaning job is done on the machine after it has been used in this way." &#42

Fertiliser is applied through a Vaderstad Rapid seed drill running at 20í to the path of the sugar beet drill.