Farmer Focus: Nightmare getting sugar beet established

Interestingly, it’s still very dry here. I make that the third very dry spring in a row. Winter cereals certainly need quite a bit of rain to achieve much of their potential, even those that we managed to establish well in September are struggling to find much water.

On the positive, wheat tiller numbers have reduced to what is, hopefully, sustainable in a weird kind of way. l just hope for moisture at the right time to make sure that those limited grain sites fill well. 

Despite the fantastic seed-beds and the completion of drilling in March, sugar beet has been a bit of a nightmare to get established. Unusually, germination has been very poor, chemicals have been aggressive and the weather hasn’t suited at all. We even had to irrigate some to get it to pull through. Then I’m sure that the late, quite sharp frosts didn’t help. 

See also: 5 tips on effective use of maleic hydrazide in potatoes

The majority of the crop will fail to meet our standard benchmark of the plants meeting in the row by Suffolk show (last week in May) and across the row by Norfolk show (end of June). It rather seems as though the crop has realised that the shows aren’t on this year, so they have no need to meet our expectations! 

This crop does, usually and hopefully, has an incredible ability to catch up and achieve, so it’s fingers crossed! 

Of course all of this is much the norm in East Anglia, but I am aware that most other parts of the UK have suffered a similar fate this spring, in such a way as to add insult to injury following last autumn’s deluge.

Is this the new norm, or just a transient weather pattern? Whatever, all that we can do is to be flexible, fleet of foot and adapt to the situation that we find ourselves in, in the same way that the government is hoping that we will react to the Agriculture Bill that is forging its way through Parliament. 

Now that it has cleared the House of Commons all that we can hope is that those in the House of Lords can inject an element of sanity by way of amendments into the Bill, while fully appreciating that our trade negotiators require an element of freedom while they bargain around the world. Surely it can’t be right that they are allowed to sell British agriculture down the river as part of that process?


Andrew Blenkiron manages the 4,400ha Euston Estate, south of Thetford. Enterprises include combinable and root crops, plus sugar beet. The estate supports let land, sheep, outdoor pigs, poultry, suckler cows, horses and stewardship.