February always seems to be an intensive period for meetings and conferences. We have to balance that against a busy time with sheep being housed for lambing, after grazing roots.
I was able to attend a winter conference organised by the British Beet Research Organisation, held at Newmarket Racecourse. Beet growers must rank as the most positive group of farmers at present, so it was good to be in their company.
The most memorable of an excellent range of speakers, was the member of the Californian beet growers group who spoke about biotech crops. Biotech beet varieties in the US now represent about 95% of the total beet area, having only been introduced in 2007.
The benefits of a much reduced carbon footprint in growing the crop coupled with dramatically reduced costs were plainly evident.
In the UK sugar beet yield increases in this country have been consistent over the past 20 years and have exceeded those experienced with other broad-acre arable crops. The work of the BBRO emphasises the importance of a continuing investment in research and development.
Most growers have now received information on the Campaign for the Farmed Environment (CFE). For many this comes at a time when their ELS agreements are up for renewal this year. The contribution that management plans made in current agreements has become evident as extra points are sought to replace them.
For many to continue, it will mean taking land out of production and choosing in-field options such as field corner management, pollen crops or wild bird food crops.
Despite Natural England staff offering free advice visits and meetings, many growers remain undecided whether to rejoin ELS. The target to raise the level of ELS participation up to 70% of arable land seems a steep one.
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