3 November 1995

Drought wont alter top growers cropping policy

As British beet growers battle to harvest every root this autumn, Robert Harris examines the policy of a leading UK grower and Charles Abel reports from Europes premier harvesting event in Holland, where soil tare was the top topic

EVEN the best sugar beet growers face problems in a harsh year. But last years top grower in the Ipswich factory region reckons his policy of reducing crop area can be sustained.

With no rain to speak of since May, John English admits he will be hard-pushed to fulfil his contract tonnage this year at Netherbury Hall, Layham, near Hadleigh, Suffolk.

That is unusual for him. He has had little trouble meeting the 1100t level in recent years, despite cutting his sugar beet area from 24ha (60 acres) of beet five years ago to just 20ha (50 acres) now.

"Growing C beet has not paid in the last 10 years," says Mr English. "At a calculated price of £15/t, I reckoned I was better off going for high yields on a smaller area and growing winter wheat on the rest."

He thought better varieties, irrigation and improved agronomy could give him those yields. Last year output hit almost 71t/ha (28.4t/acre) to give 378t over contract. But this year is different. "It just shows the elements are in charge," says Mr English.

Lifting started on Sep 30, when 4ha (10 acres) of Zulu was cleared from silty loam to make way for wheat. A similar amount was cleared last week on medium heavy loam for the same reason.

Yields have averaged 50t/ha (20t/acre), he reckons. Although that would please many dry land growers, for Mr English it is over 5t/ha (2t/acre) below target. That is despite a "really impressive" performance by contractor Robert Selfs six row harvester which hardly broke a root, he says.

Low sugars, averaging 15.9% from the first lifting, exacerbated the problem. But by the second lift levels had risen to 16.6%. That suggests the rest of the beet on lighter land should produce a reasonable sugar content.

Although he may end up below contract this season, yields so far suggest the shortfall will not jeopardise Mr Englishs 1997 contract tonnage, explains Ipswich area adviser Richard Harrison-Osborne.

That tonnage is based on an average of the best two years out of three, so this years figure can be dropped from the calculation to leave the 1993 and 1994 figures, explains Mr Harrison-Osborne. But it will remain "on the books" for the next three years, he warns.

"That means if Mr English runs short again next year he will have to include a loss-making year in his sums. But 1994s surplus of 378t can still be included and is likely to counteract that, so he could be safe sticking to the same area next year.

"But if yields are low again, he would then have to plant more in 1997. It might be better to increase next years area to be safe."

BOX:

Netherbury Hall Beet

1994 1995*

Beet yield (t/ha) 71 50

Purity (amino N) 88 145

% of contract 134 91

Dirt tare (%) 4.4 3.0

* To date


Netherbury Hall Beet

9495*

Beet yield (t/ha)7150

Purity (amino N)88 145

% of contract13491

Dirt tare (%)4.43.0

* To date

Close call:John English may struggle to meet his contract tonnage this year, following severe limits on irrigation. But the "exceptional" season will not seriously dent his policy of growing more beet on less land.