24 May 2002

Headland set-aside scores

Taking the headlands out

of sugar beet production

can boost yields and

margins across the whole

farm. Andrew Swallow

visited a Notts grower who

has done just that

NOTTS-based George Neale grows 40ha (100 acres) of sugar beet at Hall Farm, Kneeton, and for the past five seasons has not had a single headland of the crop on the farm.

That has raised efficiency and delivered a host of other benefits, he says. "We used to base our area on 16t/acre adjusted; now we work on 20t/acre and expect to grow 300 or 400t of C beet too."

Mr Neales five-year adjusted average yield is well above that at 60t/ha (24.3t/acre), despite what he describes as a near disaster last year off the capping-prone loam soil.

"We did 51t/ha (20.6t/ha), and just made quota."

Headlands are put into natural regeneration set-aside, erring on the cautious side with a minimum width of 20m, but much wider on non-square fields.

"We grow all our sugar beet in rectangular blocks which means we may have a few extra bits of set-aside, usually 25-30 acres," he says.

But across the 260ha (650 acres) of crops grown that is a small price to pay, and the set-aside brings its own rotational benefits.

"One of our best tools is Roundup on the set-aside because it allows us to get on top of blackgrass and thistles – we can time it so much better."

Annual meadow grass provides good cover on the headlands, and turning on it offers faster drilling, spraying and harvesting.

Indeed, a key reason for switching to non-cropped headlands in 1997/1998 was to ease harvesting hassles, allowing the farm to open up part fields between contract lifting on neighbouring farms, notes Mr Neale.

"Before, once we opened up a field we had to lift the whole lot or we would get in a terrible mess on the headlands if it turned wet. With set-aside headlands we could do the odd half-day here and there."

Headlands make crop inspecting and conservation work easier, he adds. "I can take the Land Rover round the outside of every beet field."

One minor downside is the extra field measuring every year, and theoretically a little P and K fertiliser and lime goes to waste as these are applied rotationally across whole fields.

But, overall, Mr Neale is convinced taking headlands out of beet production has increased the farms efficiency.

"Sometimes we do things here and I cant understand why more growers dont do them. Headland set-aside is one of those things." &#42

Having no headland sugar beet helps, and not just in yield/ha terms, says Notts grower George Neale.

&#8226 Increased work-rate/ha.

&#8226 Increased output/ha.

&#8226 Part field harvesting.

&#8226 Helps headland weed control.

BSvision for improved profits

Putting sugar beet field headlands into set-aside, based on a 10% set-aside area, on average will boost margin by £9/ha across the whole rotation, says British Sugar.

"Headland yields are only 50-80% of that on the rest of the

field. By not cropping turning headlands average beet yields increase by 4% and you can achieve a better work-rate for most field operations – plus the headlands provide wildlife corridors," says technical services manager Simon Fisher.

Encouraging growers to find other uses for headlands is a key part of the firms 20:20 vision to increase average yields by 20% and cut average growing costs by 20% by the end of the 2006 phased-introduction of the Everything But Arms policy, he adds.