25 August 1995

Drought impact in question

ALTHOUGH beet crops are dying on unirrigated light land the impact of the drought seems to be in some dispute.

Robin Baines on sand over gravel at Wroxham Home Farms, near Norwich, describes the condition of the beet crop as "dire". He has irrigated a quarter of his 324ha (800 acres). Much of the rest has been at permanent wilting point for two to three weeks. "You could set fire to it."

Yield will be down by at least a quarter, he reckons.

When rain comes it could cause further problems. With leaf cover gone sugar reserves could be depleted as root growth resumes, leading to high impurities and low sugar contents, he comments.

At Brewers Oak, Shifnal, Staffs, beet on light land is "a very sorry sight", says former barometer farmer Frank Dakin. "We can now expect a serious yield reduction."

Keith Jaggard at Brooms Barn Experimental Station, Suffolk, agrees. Trials show unirrigated beet put on just 3t/ha (1.2t/acre) in two drought hit weeks, whereas irrigated plots added 10t/ha (4t/acre). Without significant rain within 2-3 weeks the crop will fail to meet expectations, he says.

British Sugar is more positive, arguing that early drilling, a good spring and the plants 2m (6ft) tap root will see most crops through. Trial digs are "roughly in line" with the five-year average.

Up to half the crop has access to irrigation, he points out. Only if rain is short between now and harvest could there be a "potential problem".