Few ways the best can raise their game

Among accomplished growers there are relatively limited opportunities to improve returns through better husbandry, our poll suggests.

More attention to primary cultivations can boost yields, notes Mr May.

And after using conservation (non-plough) tillage this year for the first time Mr Hambidge is impressed.

“I feel it’s the way to go.”

Mr Ireland might drill directly onto pressed land, but notes that the technique usually needs an extra sprayer pass to kill over-wintered weeds.

Seed costs beyond growers’ control remain a gripe for some, notably Messrs Oldfield and Harrold, but there is recognition of the need for new varieties.

“If breeders do not see a return their focus may change, denying the industry vital improvement,” says Mr Bambridge.

“What’s not conveyed to growers is the increase in cost of seed dressings,” comments Mr Ireland.

“Whichever way you look at it, seed costs per tonne of sugar produced are lower than they have been,” says Mr May.

Drought tolerance and GM herbicide resistance, especially to help tackle volunteer potatoes, are among the key desires.

“Tolerance to total herbicide like glyphosate would make substantial savings in the cost of weed control,” says Mr Oldfield.

But even without that, weed control is generally not an issue, according to our respondents, though thistles are increasing because of over-wintered stubbles, notes one.

Several refer to the ministry’s RB209 booklet as driving their use of fertiliser, including organic manures.

However, former Barometer grower Sandy Walker, now faced with giving up his Shropshire crop after Allscott’s closure, believes it has become too restrictive in NVZs.

Many growers seem to be latching onto the value of applying fungicides to beet, which according to Mr May offers a 5% yield lift.

Mr Barrett says he may move to two applications per crop, though Mr Hardstaff says he applies fungicides only if achieving quota seems unlikely.

Irrigation remains rare, our survey suggests.

“Few growers will be able to afford this unless it is at minimum/no cost”, says Mr May.