28 April 1995

Significant damage as frost hits beet and spuds

By Andrew Blake

FROST hit potato and sugar beet crops last week. But though individual farms were badly affected, the overall impact appears slight, according to industry spokesmen.

"Significant" damage to unprotected early potatoes occurred in the Midlands. Crops in Cornwall were relatively unscathed, but some fields in Pembroke "caught a packet", according to regional PMB officer, Bill Castellan.

In terms of national area, the amount of beet redrilling is very small – up to 1000ha (2500 acres), according to British Sugar.

Lifting dates on the worst affected potatoes have been set back about a week, says the PMBs Rob Burrow. But Cheshire earlies were barely touched and remain on schedule for May 20 lifting. "Token" Cornish digs were expected this week.

Second earlies and main crops elsewhere under polythene have been "singed" and put back a few days, he says.

Richard Solari believes dry conditions exacerbated damage at Heath House Farm, Beckbury, Shropshire. "Fortunately only 10 acres of early March-sown Nikita were completely frosted off. Secondary underground shoots on later crops have also been caught quite severely," he says. "It means we have lost that early four- to five-day edge which normally gives us a bit of a premium."

Some unprotected potatoes at nearby W Maddocks, Chatwell Grange were "completely white" with frost and now look as though they have been sprayed off. Even 12ha (30 acres) of Marfona and Rocket under plastic were hit. "It has put us back about two weeks," says a spokesman.

Up to 400ha (1000 acres) of sugar beet in the Wissington, Norfolk factory area are having to be resown, according to agricultural manager Mac McMillan. "It is very difficult to evaluate the full effects. People are still looking."

For some growers, notably on low-lying black fen soils between the factory and Peterborough, losses are quite serious. Frost can be the final straw for mice-hit crops already emerging poorly from cobbly seed-beds.

For individuals the costs can be high. Mark Heading reckons he and his uncle James have lost £10,000 in inputs as a result of having to resow about 57ha (140 acres) of beet at Billups Siding Farm, Chatteris. Some was sprayed only 48 hours before the first frost – albeit with Goltix (metamitron) a "fairly benign" chemical.

The real killers, he says, for the Mar 22-sown crop were temperatures of -8C (18F) on the ground at nearby ADAS Arthur Rickwood, where two-thirds of the beet will be redrilled.

&#8226 Concern that flowering oilseed rape and forward winter barleys would suffer in the frosts appears largely unfounded, according to first round-up reports from our barometer growers (see p64). &#42

&#8226 Temps down to -5C (23F) on three consecutive nights.

&#8226 Worst late April frosts since 1982 in fens.

&#8226 Early potatoes damaged and set back.

&#8226 Significant sugar beet redrilling.

&#8226 Seed supplies adequate but Gaucho treatment tight.

Last weeks frosts forced redrilling on numerous beet farms. Here 6ha is redrilled with Aztec on JRBishop & Sons Mawby Farm, Peterborough.