Farmer Focus: Growers likely to stick with beet despite issues

We have had a very welcome 42mm of steady rain in the past 24 hours. We held off starting drilling until 1 October and have about another 30ha to complete before we will come to a standstill.

Then we will be waiting for ewes to come off the seed forage rape stubbles and for sugar beet lifting to commence at the end of the month to allow further wheat and rye plantings.

With the use of Deter seed dressings coming to an end after this autumn, and with no replacement on the horizon, drilling dates next autumn might well have to be put back even further to counter the threat of barley yellow dwarf virus. 

See also: What the neonic seed treatment ban means for sugar beet

With the beet price announced for the 2019 season, many growers have been left wondering what  their next move might be.

Virus yellows

I suspect that despite initial reticence, many will stick with the crop – partly by default in the absence of another viable alternative.

Flea beetle issues has ruled out growing rapeseed for many growers, while pulse growing is not a road many would wish to go down, particularly after another unsatisfactory season.

While a beet price of £20.42/t for 2019 is one issue, the absence of neonicotinoid seed dressings for virus yellow control is another.

I am of a vintage to remember back in the late 1970s and early 1980s just how devastating virus yellows can be. I can recall seeing a field of beet in July looking the same colour as a crop of OSR in flower.

The products we used to spray for controlling the virus back then certainly aren’t available today.

I heard on the Farming Today programme this morning a very creditable case put forward by Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust for the retention of direct payments on the grounds of the need to reintegrate food production with environmental stewardship.

He was not in favour of capping, but preferred a tiered approach to payments. He also said Michael Gove’s “public money for public goods” policy could mean that a number – perhaps 20% – of growers might go cold turkey and walk away from any farm payments, which would free them from many environmental and regulatory constraints. All food for thought.

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