British Sugar tight-lipped on record beet yields

Some sugar-beet growers have produced adjusted yields in excess of 100t/ha for individual fields, but British Sugar is remaining tight-lipped about whether the crop is on course for record yields.

“Sugar-beet yields are looking better than last year, based upon growers’ reported yields to date,” the firm’s Paul Bee told Farmers Weekly. Last year adjusted yields averaged 66t/ha, while 35% of growers beat British Sugar‘s targeted 70t/ha yield.

But neither Mr Bee nor the firm’s Robin Limb would quote figures for average yields for this year’s crop, or project what the end-of-campaign figure might be.

“There is still over 50% of the crop in the ground. We’re hoping we don’t get any severe weather in the run-up to Christmas that could change things,” Mr Limb said.

Root yields were down this year compared with 2009, but sugar levels were running at 19.08%, 1.5% higher than last year, he noted. Early crops, in particular, had high sugar content, helped by the concentrating effect of root dehydration. “But levels haven’t plummeted since we had rain. It is certainly going to be a good average sugar content year.”

Cambridgeshire grower Oliver Walston was one of those with adjusted yields of over 100t/ha, with a 26ha unirrigated field achieving 104t/ha.

“Last year we managed 85t/ha, which was a record, but to beat that by 25% is unbelievable,” he said. “We didn’t do anything different in terms of managing the crop; it’s purely down to the weather.”

Sugar contents had been equally impressive, averaging over 19%, compared with 16.5-17% normally, he added.

Ideal conditions had helped Jeremy Youngman’s irrigated crop for Northrepps Farming Company, Cromer, to beat the 100t/ha mark, up from 80-90t/ha in previous seasons.

“It went in early into dry, warm seed-beds, came up uniformly, and had plenty of sunshine at the right times. And when it was looking for water we were able to give it.” Overall the crop received three separate applications, each of 1in, he said.

But fellow Norfolk grower Jim Alston said he wasn’t looking at a record crop this year. “We have harvested about half, and it has done in the ’80s. I don’t think it will be a record, but it is going to be a good year.”

A number of factors were helping to improve yields, especially agronomic developments, he suggested. For example, plants were more vigorous, making it easier to get a reliable stand.

“Of course the weather has been pretty important as well. The open autumns have also helped, as has more hand-to-mouth harvesting.”

In Lincolnshire, Mark Ireland was hopeful he might achieve 70t/ha for the first time, after coming close with 68t/ha last season. “The first two fields have yielded 73-74t/ha adjusted, purely reliant on their high sugars and low tares.

“The weather conspired to help all along the way, even though we started drilling about the same time as we finished last year. But the beet hit the ground running and never seemed to stop.

“Quite often you get a cold spell where the beet stops growing, but that didn’t happen this year.”

Both Mr Ireland and Mr Alston cautioned against cutting the 2010 crop on the back of the past two years yields. “You need to look at the five-year average,” Mr Ireland stressed. “Good yields might add a couple of tonnes to our budgeted yield of 62t/ha, but I think we’ve already made the major moves in cutting back.”

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