FARMER FOCUS: Sugar beet seed woes

Over the years that I have been writing this column, I have repeatedly discussed sugar beet and had got to a stage where I was fairly happy with the crop. It gives us regular high yields, is subsequently profitable and is an excellent spring break crop.

That is until the damned seed doesn’t come up. I know I am speaking on behalf of many growers in saying that the quality of the seed this year is well below what we should expect, with some fields only having 65-70% germination and worse on other growers’ fields.

It seems that if you had an old drill that would not put the seed in much more than 20mm, the crop got up and away really well. So those of us who have chosen state-of-the-art drills to get seed in the ground in almost any condition have been penalised.

Surely a modern treated and primed seed should be able to come up from 35mm deep, with the money it costs it ought to come up from a foot deep. And to add insult to injury, I actually drilled a higher seed rate this year and ended up with the poorest emergence I have ever known.

I have backed the sugar industry for a long time and defended British Sugar, but they had better have a good explanation, as too had Germains, the firm that primed the seed. Please don’t hide behind the fact you are a monopoly and face up to this issue, you cannot afford to “#### off” growers like me who have supported you.

I had a group from Bayer for a farm walk the other day, they were a good bunch and were quite complimentary about the farm and how the crops look. That has lifted my spirits and made me realise we are in very good shape compared with much of the country. I think most of my wheats have good potential as long as the sun comes out, which seeing as it is now show time will probably stay behind the rain clouds.

Here’s to summer, where’s the Factor 50?

Richard Cobbald is farm manager for West Wratting Park Estate near Cambridge. The 1,300ha of heavy soils grow wheat, oilseed rape, sugar beet and spring barley.

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