Ongoing processing problems at British Sugar’s Newark factory have forced the firm to abandon processing beet destined for the plant, leaving growers to dispose of unharvested beet while minimising the impact on subsequent crops.
Last week, British Sugar switched its delivery strategy and accepted the best-quality crops first in a bid to keep the factories running.
“But it has become evident that the impact of the severe cold followed by wet and mild conditions, has been especially pronounced in the areas that supply the Newark factory,” said the company in a letter to its growers.
“The quality of much of the beet is deteriorating to the point where, despite our best efforts, processing this beet is impossible. We now believe that the majority of the beet in the Newark area will not be able to be processed.”
This leaves growers with the challenge of disposing of beet in clamps and unharvested crops, as well as deciding how to manage these fields prior to drilling the following crop, prompting the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) to issue an advisory bulletin.
One option is to use beet as livestock feed. “Whole beet can be fed successfully to cattle or sheep; they are low in crude protein (6.8%), but high in energy (75-81% total digestible nutrients).”
They can be fed by chopping in a tub grinder or forage harvester to reduce the risk of choking by cattle or sheep.
But when feeding beet, it is important to determine which fungicide and herbicides have been used on the sugar beet crop and check for any label restrictions regarding the use of sugar beet as a feed ingredient.
Another option for whole beet already harvested is to spread them on stubble or stalk fields using manure spreaders and allowing livestock to eat them on the field.
For beet that are not considered fit to harvest, then current soil conditions will dictate if cultivations can be carried out immediately or if they should be delayed.
If the soil is ploughed under poor, very wet conditions then oxygen diffusion to the beet degradation zone will be too slow for aerobic digestion by the soil organisms, so anaerobic digestion will start. This will mean that various “nasty products” will build-up in the soil, warned the BBRO.
Many of these products could be toxic to the roots of the following crop (probably spring cereal). So ensure ploughing is done in good conditions, if necessary this may be quite late.
Beet to be ploughed in would benefit from being chopped up first to aid the degradation process; discs or rotovators are possible options if they can be taken over the land first without ruining the possibility for the plough tractor to obtain reasonable traction.
The use of glyphosate products should only be used if there is sufficient actively growing green leaf on the sugar beet crowns and, in most cases, this is not going to be the case at present. There may be an opportunity to apply glyphosate nearer to the sowing of the next crop, but this is a decision that needs to be taken nearer the time, said the BBRO.
Any growing tops that remain will eventually set seed if not sprayed off. This is of importance if the land is going to be left fallow and not cropped.
However, when leaving a sugar beet crop in the field, there is concern on some nutrients being “locked up.” But BBRO said this risk is low as the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of fresh beet is not particularly high, so it is unlikely that much extra N will be locked up. Some might even be released if the rotting process is rapid.
Another possible concern is diseases in following crops. Violet root rot could be a problem if diseased material is left in the field. This could be a particular issue if other host plants such as carrots or potatoes are next in the rotation.
Where violet root rot has been identified, plan to drill a spring cereal as the following crop. Groundkeepers can be a source of downy mildew, as can debris left in the field from cleaner loaders. Aim to “spray off” any groundkeepers prior to establishing the next crop if sufficient green leaf area is present.
For more on British Sugar’s decision to abandon processing, click here