28 May 1999

MORE SUGAR BEET SCOPE

CURRENTLY lying third in the EU sugar beet yield league, Britains beet growers could easily improve on that through the "appliance of science".

Last campaign – and for the second year running – the UK maintained its third place ranking with a final yield of 8.8t of sugar per hectare. "The potential to do better is there," says British Sugars head of agricultural R&D, Dr Mike Armstrong.

It is the message the industry will be pushing with the Focus on Sugar Beet feature at Cereals 99. The special area is being co-ordinated by the Sugar Beet Research and Education Fund (SBREF).

Farmers should look to both increase yield and reduce input costs, thereby making the whole enterprise – not just their sugar beet operation – more profitable, he says. Industry-led research, such as BSs quality harvesting programme is already helping crop profit, he claims.

Nationally, harvesting losses currently average about 2.3t/ha, worth about £85/ha at the full contract price. The object is to reduce that to 2t/ha over the next five years.

That is achievable because the top 10% of growers are already recording losses of just 1t/ha, worth about £30/ha at full contract price or £15/ha for "C" beet.

"The drive for future crop profitability will be concentrated on increased yield and Focus on Sugar Beet will help growers achieve it," says BS technical services manager Simon Fisher.

The ten displays on show will represent the largest technical demonstration of sugar beet research and development and husbandry ever staged at a cereals event, he says. "The message we want growers to take away is that they can improve yields and profitability."

Citing the US as an example of what can be achieved, he said the worlds largest crop of sugar beet was grown there last year. With the benefit of a longer growing season and plenty of sun and water it yielded 152t/ha adjusted.

"It illustrates the tremendous future potential for the UK beet crop, currently averaging 50.7 adjusted tonnes of beet and eight tonnes of sugar per hectare – and rising. UK yields will continue to rise through a combination of improved varieties and better management of resources thus enabling us to improve on our third place performance."

To help growers get the most from their crops, the latest results of SBREF-funded research undertaken by IACR-Brooms Barn, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Silsoe Research Institute, ADAS, British Sugar and Harper Adams Agricultural College will be available.

Experts will explain the science behind their advice, all of it aimed at improving yield and profitability. They will target input cost, pest and disease control and reduced losses – both in the field during harvesting and while the crop is in store awaiting delivery.

There will also be a focus on:

&#8226 foliar disease control.

&#8226 chemical use.

&#8226 pesticide damage.

&#8226 virus yellows.

&#8226 seed treatments.

&#8226 fertiliser use.

&#8226 soil compaction.

&#8226 NIAB recommended varieties.

&#8226 a new tractor hoe from Silsoe.

&#8226 weed beet.

"Weed beet has undergone a resurgence in the last couple of years," says Mr Fisher.

"Last year 35% of the national sugar beet crop area was infested. There has been no funded work on the problem in recent years and if control action isnt taken, it could become as big a problem as it was in the 1980s.

"We will be advising on the best control methods such as mechanical weed wiping or tractor hoeing for heavy infestations. If only a few bolters are present in the crop, hand pulling is a simple and easy control measure."

Although the introduction of sugar beet seed treatment Gaucho (imidacloprid) has significantly reduced virus yellows, the disease still has the potential to pose a significant threat to UK beet yields.

The disease and its aphid carriers are the subject of long-term research work and the exhibit from IACR-Brooms barn will show how aphid populations are monitored and the various treatments that are available to control the problem.

IACR-Brooms Barn will also present its findings on the effects of drought on sugar beet and how to combat it. Researchers say it could be possible to develop new "drought beating" qualities. But work is still at an early stage, they stress.

The search for better methods of hoeing will be demonstrated with Silsoes new tractor hoe. Still under development, it incorporates a computerised image guidance system to enable high-speed and accurate tractor hoeing of sugar beet without damaging the crop.

Soil compaction contributes to poor yields and using a specially compacted area to illustrate the problem, experts will advise on the best preventative methods. These include; keeping the number of passes to an absolute minimum; using flotation tyres, and not going on the land to prepare seedbeds until conditions are right.

Along with the latest advice on fertiliser inputs, British Sugar will be exhibiting an experimental plot drill, which has been developed by the agricultural R&D team.

It can apply liquid, granule or prill fertilisers at drilling and accurately place the product under or to the side of the seed, or on top of the ground. If adopted, it could have a significant impact on input costs, said Mr Fisher. &#42