7 June 1996

Primed seed could give a flying start

A NOVEL sugar beet seed treatment which speeds emergence will be widely available for 1997.

Advantage-treated seed will be especially useful for silt and sand land growers, says Keith Jaggard, of IACR-Brooms Barn.

It has been extensively field tested. British Sugars John Prince says 600ha (1480 acres) were sown last season. This year it accounts for 3% of the UK crop.

The treatment, pioneered in the 1980s by Mike Durrant at Brooms Barn, steeps seed in water for a few hours. The seed is then removed, partially dried and kept warm at 25C (77F) for 3-4 days.

The idea is to prime the seed, reducing its pre-germination development phase so it emerges faster after sowing. "By how much depends on soil temperatures," says Dr Jaggard. "But in cool conditions in March it could be up to five or six days sooner."

Treated seeds are less vulnerable in soils like silts, which are prone to capping. "The longer the seedlings remain below the ground, the bigger the risk. Anything that speeds emergence will help."

Growers can also drill earlier into colder soils, if conditions allow, as the resulting plants seem more resistant to bolting. "On suitable sand land growers could start a week earlier than they otherwise might," says Dr Jaggard.

Mr Prince expects this season to provide a good bolting test. "I would anticipate seed is more resistant to bolting but we have not really had the weather to trigger it in recent seasons. But we have had a colder than normal May, so we could see some in early-drilled crops this year."

In trials at Brooms Barn, sugar yields have been boosted by up to 0.5t/ha (0.2t/acre) in treated crops, says Dr Jaggard. Mr Prince also thinks output can climb. "I believe there is a yield advantage there, although it is relatively small, about 1-2%."

Cost of treatment is about £13/unit for November payment.

Priming promise… faster emerging seeds could boost sugar yields.