New generation priming treatment could help take beet yields higher

A revolutionary seed priming treatment which is twice as effective at boosting sugar beet emergence and establishment will be made available to growers next season.

Developed by Germain’s Technology Group, XBeet is performing so well in replicated trials on UK farms this season that the company already believes it will soon be a major tool for growers wanting to maximise yields and profitability.

Xbeet delivers this benefit over the standard seed treatment, Advantage, which already yields 4% higher than non-primed seed, through improved robustness, reliability and uniformity, claims Veronique Heyes, Germain’s sugar beet business director.

“We have something quite special with X-beet,” she says. “It outperforms Advantage – giving faster, more uniform establishment and higher plant populations.”

Climatic events compromised last year’s UK Xbeet trials, so no yield information under our growing conditions has yet been obtained. But XBeet advanced 50% emergence by 3-6 days on early sown UK sites during initial trials last year. Results from this year’s trials indicate a similar performance.

Full yield results from those UK trials won’t be available until this autumn. But data from the USA – where XBeet has been commercially available for two years – suggests yields could be 10% higher than non-primed seed.

“The US data is relevant because the crop agronomy is similar to the UK, even though the climate there is much more continental. It also mirrors European emergence data so there is no reason to believe that we won’t get a similar trend in yield performance.”

The exact technology behind XBeet is a closely guarded secret, for now at least while a patent is applied for. But no additives are involved and priming involves holding the seed wet for a pre-determined duration at a specific temperature, before drying it back to normal moisture.

A handful of UK growers are testing the primed seed under commercial conditions this year in each factory area, with the treatment being offered to growers on a wider scale for the 2009 planting season.

“We are investing enough in this technology to cover about 30% of the UK beet crop across selected varieties. The premium for XBeet will be £3.09 – or the cost of a pint of beer and a packet of crisps.”

A 5% yield benefit over Advantage would enable growers to recoup their investment at least 10 times over in terms of additional revenue per hectare.

“We know that early drilling in itself delivers additional yield benefits, even with untreated seed, so if we can combine the XBeet performance with earlier drilling then it could be a case of two plus two equals five. We will find out this year.”

Emerging data from 28 farmer or small plot trials across the UK beet-growing region this season are likely to confirm that XBeet will indeed outperform Advantage, according to Ed Burks, agricultural trials and development manager at British Sugar.

Even in a difficult year like 2008, crops treated with XBeet emerged faster than crops treated with Advantage, says Mr Burks. Although final counts are still in progress, the XBeet treated crops also look likely to have higher plant populations, he adds.

“Seed went into quite cold ground and sat for quite a while. There was also some capping which affected final plant counts. If XBeet can get germination past those sorts of conditions then it will prove very popular.”

It looks like it can. On one trial site, for example, Advantage beet was only 7% emerged by the time X-Beet was 50% emerged on 23 April. Even by mid-May there were still more gaps in rows of otherwise well-established Advantage beet.

“It would be pure extrapolation to look at the plant population and estimate the final yield,” says Mr Burks. “Where there’s a gap, beet will grow bigger and compensate to a certain extent. But gaps cause weed problems and problems at harvest as well.

“It would be dangerous to extrapolate too much in the middle of the season, but the data so far is promising. Some plant population results still need to come in but eventually we do expect to see them translate to higher yields.”