12 December 1997

Researchers agree that crop potential on rise

BEET yield potential is increasing by 1-2% a year and is set to continue doing so for years to come, predicts a senior German researcher.

"The current annual increase is huge compared with other crops. But there is still plenty of scope for more," says Bernward Märländer of the Department of Agriculture at Göttingen University. "The absolute yield potential amounts to more than 20t/ha of sugar."

That is more than twice the current yield – a crop with 50t/ha (20t/acre) of roots at 18% sugar produces 9t/ha (3.6t/acre).

Prof Märländers optimistic view is shared by Marc-Richard Molard of the French Institute of Beet Technology (ITB) in Paris.

"Current breeding, combined with advances in cultivation techniques, are pointing to average root yields of 100t/ha at 16% sugar by the year 2020," he says. "Yields of 20t/ha of white sugar will be common. These were found occasionally in 1993, and more frequently this year."

To achieve this, 100,000 roots each of 1kg and with 20% sugar are needed. Mr Molard says this is not a theoretical goal, as it has already been achieved and there are varieties capable of this performance now in French trials. &#42

Low input types

Low-input beet varieties are being developed for production systems where strict protocols dictate what can be used to grow a sugar crop. "As well as varieties to resist rhizomania plus other major diseases, and pests, we are developing ways using bio-tech to treat seed so chemicals are more precisely targeted to where they are needed," says Chris Ahrens of German beet breeder KWS. "This will reduce chemical pressure on the environment and help growers producing sugar in a system with input protocols."