8 January 1999

Beet exceeds expectations

By Andrew Swallow

SUGAR beet lifting is on schedule and overall yields are good considering the difficult season, says British Sugar. An earlier end to the campaign than last year is forecast.

"Deliveries are at the same point as this time last year," says BS operations support manager Robin Limb. By last Saturday 69% of the expected crop had been delivered, 24% was in clamps, and 7% still to lift.

Cleaned yields are averaging 47-50t/ha (19-20t/acre) and sugar content 17.61%, slightly up on last year. That means the adjusted yield should hit the five-year average of 50t/ha, he estimates.

"It is too early to put a precise figure on the final yields, but it looks like being quite pleasing after the slow start in the spring."

However, regional variations are large. Early drilled crops in East Anglia matched last years bumper outputs, but late drilled crops in the West Midlands and Yorks are down by up to up 40%.

"In extreme cases crops are yielding 30-35t/ha where they did over 50t/ha in 1997," says York factory agricultural manager Mark Culloden.

Unlifted beet is mainly restricted to coastal areas where frost is not considered a threat, says Mr Limb. Inland clamps will need covering should the weather turn cold, though overheating is more of a risk at present, he adds.

"Clamps are best left uncovered, so long as the mild weather continues."

The campaign is expected to finish by mid-Febuary.

&#8226 The positive start to euro currency trading is good news for beet growers, who can expect higher prices if sterling continues to become weaker.

"The combined A and B price could end up close to, or even a few pence over, last years £32.70/t," speculates British Sugars Robin Limb. Expected C beet prices will be announced in the next fortnight. &#42

Rotation rules relaxed

MIXED farms have finally been given the same opportunity as their counterparts in the rest of Europe to rotate arable crops over non-IACS land without attracting subsidy penalties.

Many such farms, especially in the south-west, operate long rotations including grass and missed out on the chance to register all their land as eligible for arable area payments when IACS was first introduced, explains Somerset-based campaigner Jim Barnard.

Subsequent MAFF interpretation of the rules then barred them from rotating their eligible areas around their farms, even though the practice is financially and environmentally sound and permitted elsewhere in Europe, he says.

Following EU intervention MAFF has eased the rules. It released a booklet Explanatory Guide to Exchanges of Eligible and Ineligible Land last month showing how growers may now freely rotate their crops without suffering a penalty.

"This change of heart is a welcome Christmas present for some farmers. Now we will be able to rotate crops to minimise the use of chemicals. Until now the rules have been leading us down a more intensive route with a build-up of wild oats and blackgrass."

The move will save costs and should win favour with consumers, Dr Barnard adds.

Henry Gent runs 130 dairy cows on 80ha (200 acres) of grass at Mosshayne Farm, Broadclyst, Exeter, and has potatoes and combinable crops on a further 53ha (130 acres). He welcomes the change and pays tribute to Dr Barnard for his lobbying.

"It is artificial and unnatural that the arable should always stay in one place. We have got one 8ha (20 acre) grass field which in nature should be eligible for arable. We are not an extreme case. Many people would like to move their crops around more rather than letting them become fossilised." &#42

WHATTHECHANGEMEANS

&#8226 Eligible/ineligible exchanges.

&#8226 Environmentally beneficial.

&#8226 Chemical input savings.

&#8226 Matches other EU practice.

Rot control to stay in force

BROWN rot control measures for potatoes, first introduced in 1995, are to remain in place, boosted by new moves on Egyptian imports.

Both the EU rules aimed at avoiding export of infected Dutch seed and the UKs monitoring programme will continue.

And potatoes grown in Egypt will be barred from entry into Great Britain unless their crop was grown in pest-free areas recognised by the EU and comply with detailed plant health conditions.

Traces of latent brown rot were found in about 0.4% of the 60,000t of Egyptian imports last year. The affected potatoes were destroyed, says MAFF. &#42

All-in-one fruit fertiliser

A NEW fertiliser for use in fertigation systems has been introduced by Haifa Chemicals which claims to be world market leader in production of potassium nitrate.

Polyfeed Soft Fruit Mix, a 12:6:36 NPK product supplemented by 1.5% Mg and a full range of trace elements, has been designed for weekly supplementary feeding of strawberries, raspberries, currants, gooseberries and grapes. It is available in two forms – acid and buffered to suit hard and soft water.

Supplier Hi-Chem (UK) says its high potash content produces high yields of well-flavoured fruit without over-stimulating vegetative growth. Extra nitrogen can be added as ammonium nitrate so growers can change the analysis simply and cheaply without having to stock several different products.

"We are trying to keep it as simple as we can," says general manager Robert Odling.

"There are now about 7000ha (17,290 acres) of drip-fed and fertigated crops, including potatoes, in the UK," he notes. &#42

Sulphur aids seed-beds

A SEED-BED application of 20 kg/ha sulphur is enough to prevent sulphur deficiency in most spring oilseed rape crops, according to research funded by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority.

Finely divided elemental S, incorporated as a seed-bed dressing, was as effective as seed-bed-applied potassium sulphate at responsive sites. A foliar spray of epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) was a less effective method of applying S to prevent deficiency and in some instances reduced yield through crop stress or scorch.

Soil analysis in early spring was a useful method for predicting sulphur deficiency. Sampling to 900mm (3ft) depth is necessary to determine the amount of sulphur available within rooting depth.

"An application rate of 20 kg/ha S was generally sufficient to prevent S deficiency at yield responsive sites, although 30 kg/ha may be needed for very deficient sites with otherwise good yield potential," says Prof Steve McGrath of IACR-Rothamsted. &#42