8 March 2002

Steer clear of rhizo is creed when drilling

By Andrew Blake

DESPITE imminent relaxing of strict official controls to contain rhizomania disease, sugar beet growers are being advised against drilling the crop on infected land – even with tolerant varieties.

Discussions between the NFU and British Sugar are still under way to try to find the best way forward when the UKs rhizo-protected zone status ends after Mar 31, says the unions Helen Kirkman.

"Until the new arrangements are finalised, we are strongly recommending that growers dont plant sugar beet on fields subject to a plant health order in 2001 or previously."

Limited availability of seed of tolerant varieties, such as Concept, Rayo and Dorena, means growers options are quite restricted this season. But some rhizo-affected farms are keen to take advantage of any easing of the rules come Apr 1.

Bob Gooderham, who grows about 240ha (600 acres) of beet in Norfolk, was hit by rhizomania five years ago and plans to sow only tolerant types this season. "I have a 65 acre field where, at the moment, I cannot grow beet. It means we are quite restricted on acreage."

To be sure of achieving quota he would like to use some of his infected land, but uncertainty over the industrys position when the current rules lapse has held him back. "If the restrictions are lifted Id like to put another 30-40 acres in, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions."

Not least of these is whether BS would be prepared to process the crop.

Only about 7% of this years crop will be sown with rhizo-tolerant types, and that is little more than would have been drilled if DEFRA had maintained its anti-rhizo policy, says BSs Peter Williams.

However, that is twice the amount indicated by Norfolk grower Stephen Collett, who believes partially resistant varieties should be more widely available now the disease is endemic in parts of East Anglia (Letters, Feb 22).

"We are in discussion with the NFU on the way forward with tolerant types," says Mr Williams. Of the 170-180,000 units of seed sold this spring, 10-12,000 units are likely to be rhizo-resisters, he says. &#42

Rhizo rules

&#8226 Protected zone status ends Mar 31.

&#8226 Some farms keen to drill infected land.

&#8226 NFU/BS advice against doing so.

&#8226 Uncertainty over future containment.