9 June 1995

Recommended list standards rise once more

Sugar beet growers have never had such a strong choice of varieties to consider. Robert Harris investigates what is on offer for next season

LATEST National Institute of Agricultural Botany recommended list of sugar beet varieties sees a further big jump in performance over previous years.

It is 3% up on last year, which means it has risen 5% in just two seasons, says Simon Kerr, head of potatoes and sugar beet at NIAB.

"The standard is now very, very high. Varieties have closed up in terms of relative yield and growers income – theres now no significant difference between most of them."

That is good news, he says. "Variety choice is no longer dictated solely by growers income. It allows more flexibility, so varieties can be better matched to conditions."

Choose recommended

But growers should choose the bulk of their crop from fully recommended varieties, he advises. "These have been thoroughly tested, seed is reliable and growers will have experience with most of them."

Promising provisional types are worth trying on a limited area. "Anything in its third year in this category which is still showing well is probably a safe bet."

Three varieties, Aztec, Triumph and Zulu, gain full recommendation – Planet has been dropped. The new provisional recommendations are Jackpot, Scarlett and Verity.

Aztec, from Hilleshög, is likely to be this years favourite, says Mr Kerr. "It is consistent and has no weakness at all – it has the highest growers income, slightly above average sugar content and good resistance to bolting. It also has good establishment and vigour, the hallmark of all Hilleshög varieties, so its a good choice for early drilling."

Triumph, from Delitszch, certainly merits consideration, he says. "It has had the highest yields over the last two years, a quite dramatic improvement." But it has a relatively low sugar content and fairly high juice impurities, so should not be grown on high organic matter soils. Establishment is "not that hot", so it may not suit early sowing, he adds.

Zulu, another Hilleshög variety, also has good yields, though these have slipped slightly over the past two years trials. "But its still among the best, with good bolting resistance and a growers income to match Aztec."

Stablemate Saxon, now in its seventh year on the list, will run a close second to Aztec for popularity, says Mr Kerr. "It has the same good seed characteristics, high yield and sugar content and low impurities. It sets the scene in terms of good quality beet."

Celt – Hilleshög again – has a similar yield, and is a "good all-round performer", says Mr Kerr. First listed in 1990, its bolting resistance has yet to be bettered, so it will remain the favourite for early sowing.

Giselle gained promotion last year. Although this Delitszch variety has shown better performance in the past two years, Mr Kerr reckons it is still "not quite there" in terms of yield and growers income. Juice quality is also relatively low. Sown early it is likely to bolt.

Given the strength of the lists, Mr Kerr admits it was difficult to decide what to add to the provisional category. All three newcomers are prone to bolting, so should not be sown too soon. "But sow them at the right time and theyll be fine."

Jackpot has a growers income like Triumph. Root and sugar yields are fairly high, but sugar content is below average. Delitszch-bred Scarlett has similar characteristics.

For the first time, Belgian breeder SES has a variety on the list – Zeneca Seeds is the agent. Verity has a high sugar content and low impurities, with the best growers income of the provisionals, putting it "on a par" with other varieties, says Mr Kerr.

Of the more established names, KWS-bred Roberta and Hilleshögs Druid are likely to be popular.

Both are in their third year and proving reliable – their high root yields offsetting below-average sugar contents. Roberta has higher juice impurities, so peaty soils should be avoided.

Torc, also from Hilleshög, is a good early drilling choice. But it has a low crown height and smaller tops, so it will not suit stony ground. But it could suit soils where excess top growth can be a problem, he suggests.

Fiona, from KWS, has Saxon-like quality but a consistently low yield, says Mr Kerr. Rose, from US-based Betaseed (marketed by Nickersons), had better yields last year, lifting it nearer to other varieties. Establishment has also improved, and it has good bolting resistance.

&#8226 Early drilling needs good establishment and good bolting resistance:

Try – Aztec, Celt, Saxon, Torc, Triumph, Zulu.

&#8226 Late sowing:

Try – Druid, Roberta, Rose, Saxon.

&#8226 Peats or muck-treated soils produce lower sugars and juice purity:

Try – Fiona, Rose, Saxon, Verity.

&#8226 Lower-yielding sites:

Try – Aztec, Roberta, Saxon.

&#8226 Fully recommended:

Aztec*, Celt, Giselle, Saxon, Triumph*, Zulu*

&#8226 Provisionally recommended:

Druid, Fiona, Jackpot*, Roberta, Rose, Scarlett*, Torc, Verity*

&#8226 Departures:

Planet, Cordelia, Tornado, Vyper

* New to category.

Theres no shortage of good sugar beet varieties in the latest list to match different soil types and grower needs.