Richard Ivatt, who grows 125ha (309 acres) of sugar beet from his base near Spalding, Lincolnshire, is keen to make the most of technical improvements in his quest to increase yields.
“We need to produce as much yield as possible, as cost effectively as possible,” he says. “In practical terms, that means being prepared to drill early, as well as keeping a close eye on costs.”
He believes the trick to a high-yielding sugar beet crop is to get it up and away without delay. Last year yields rose to 67t/ha, compared with the farm’s five-year average of 62t/ha.
“Fortunately, we’ve moved on from seed treatments which delay emergence,” he says. “There’s also a new priming treatment available, which appears to get plants through the ground two to three days earlier.”
The newer seed treatments are Poncho Beta and Cruiser Force, which offer both aphid and soil pest control. The new priming treatment is XBeet, being introduced this year as an eventual replacement for Advantage.
“We used Gaucho (imidacloprid) seed treatment for several years with great success,” he recalls. “But it did delay crop emergence and the newer choices do offer more persistent aphid control – an important factor with early drilling.”
Mr Ivatt is conducting a field trial this season, comparing the control of soil pests by both Cruiser Force and Poncho Beta in a 20ha (49.5-acre) section of Trinita. Having taken on a block of land which had been in set-aside for the past four years, he had particular concerns about pests such as wireworm and millipedes.
“Trials evidence suggests Cruiser Force has the edge on Poncho Beta for soil pest control,” he says. “At the moment, we can’t see a difference between the two, although I will opt for Cruiser Force in future for this land. We can’t afford to risk losing plants.”
On other land with no history of soil-borne pests he will use Poncho Beta. “Aphid control and the prevention of virus yellows is our main concern here, so we use a different active ingredient and aim for lasting control.”
The availability of Gaucho as Nuprid this year, at £10 a unit cheaper than either Poncho Beta or Cruiser Force, doesn’t tempt him despite previous good results and a potential saving of £1375. “It seems pointless to go back to a treatment which delays the crop. With Gaucho, we had to use a priming treatment just to get the crop back to where it should have been.”
Another trial on Mr Ivatt’s farm compares the two priming treatments, Advantage and XBeet.
“The XBeet section emerged two to three days earlier,” he says. “We definitely saw a more consistent and even plant stand earlier on.”
That initial advantage has since disappeared, he admits. “But the sooner you can get the crop up and away, the more chance you have of higher yields. XBeet will cost us about £2/acre more than Advantage and we’ll need to place our order before we’ve seen the results. But my instinct is to go for the new treatment.”
Mr Ivatt adds that there might have been a bigger difference if it had been a bad spring.
Seed treatment advice
Drilling date and likely pest pressures are the two main considerations for seed treatment selection, says Mike May of Broom’s Barn.
“You need a treatment which will provide long-lasting aphid control, especially when drilling at the beginning of March,” he advises.
While Nuprid will give 10 weeks’ protection, both Poncho Beta and Cruiser Force will last several weeks longer. They both also contain pyrethroid, which gives better soil pest control.
Nuprid is cheaper and may be enough if pest problems are minimal and drilling hasn’t been brought forward, he says. “But you’ll need one of the newer treatments if you’re going all out for yield, as Nuprid does slightly slow emergence.”
Independent adviser Dr Alan Dewar recommends Cruiser Force where larger soil pests are a problem.
“There’s been better control of pests like millipedes and wireworm with Cruiser Force. It seems the tefluthrin element has better fumigant properties than beta-cyfluthrin. In yield terms, it’s worth an extra 4.9t/ha.”
Otherwise, there’s very little to choose between those two actives or Nuprid, he adds. “They’ve all had a significant role in boosting crop yields. Virus yellows is now hardly seen and plant stands are rarely below 75,000 plants/ha.”