11 September 1998

Cantleys top beet man spells out his system

A NORFOLK farmer admits his switch to liquid fertiliser is not the sole reason for being top beet grower in the Cantley factory area last year.

But he believes the change to more readily available nutrients has helped.

Phil Wright grows about 70ha (173 acres) of beet on the 445ha (1100 acres) he farms at Acle with brothers Joe and Richard. Sugar beet used to be grown as often as one year in three. While that caused no problems, recently acquired land means it is now grown once in four or five years.

Yields on the mainly clay land with lighter patches averaged 55t/ha (22t/acre) when contract-applied solid fertiliser was used in the autumn. In the three seasons since changing to Omex liquid suspensions mean output has been 65t/ha (26t/acre), says Mr Wright. Sugar content has risen from 17 to 19%. "Last year we did 79t/ha and the costs are more or less the same," he adds.

Clearly not all the extra yield and sugar is due to the move to liquid, which was advocated by agronomist Pip Roney, himself Cantley winner in 1996. "It is linked to a lot of different things. We are getting better varieties all the time and paying more attention to detail like drilling depth to avoid damage from mice.

"We are also trying to drill earlier. We never used to start until Mar 20. Now if the soil is OK on Mar 8/9 we go. But our heavy patches prevent us sowing too soon."

Spring nitrogen has also been trimmed, which probably accounts for average amino N levels falling from 150 to 90.

Boron has been used more regularly since the switch, and Gaucho (imidacloprid) seed dressing may also have had an impact, he acknowledges.

"But I think the liquid has had a big influence." Based on Mr Roneys soil analyses it is applied by contractor Crop Care at the end of October and ploughed down. "On average we use 70kg/ha of phosphate, 120 of potash and 120 of salt with some boron, usually half rate, 4kg/ha.

"We are putting on much the same amounts as we did before, but we can get it on so much more evenly. That is the key. And I think that because the particles are ground more finely, to go through the sprayer, the ingredients must be more readily available to the crop."

First top-dressing is applied shortly after drilling. "We usually use 1.5cwt/acre of a 20:8:14 compound to make sure there is some P and K there on the surface. We then top up the N at two-three leaves using Hydros Extran. We find it has a more regular prill size than Nitram and spreads more evenly at 24m." &#42

TOP BEET FORMULA

&#8226 Less tight rotation.

&#8226 Improved varieties.

&#8226 Earlier drilling.

&#8226 More boron.

&#8226 Ready nutrient supply.

Nutrient availability helped drive up yields for Philip and Joe Wright (centre and right) at Acle, Norfolk, with advice from agronomist Pip Roney (left).