Philip Bradshaw: Mixed feelings over sugar beet

Philip Bradshaw grows cereals, sugar beet and potatoes on about 300ha (740 acres) fenland and other soil types from Flegcroft Farm, Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire

It was with mixed feelings that I eventually returned my sugar beet contract to British Sugar.

The modestly improved price offer after the Whittlesey growers’ meeting and lower combinable crop values at the time persuaded me to grow beet again next season.

Butit will be on a reduced acreage, and I still seriously question whether I shall grow the crop the following year.

Our oilseed harvest was happily finished before substantial rain fell. Much needed slightly drying, and yields were about 3.8 to 4t/ha, with spot levels much higher. It was no surprise that our biggest yield thief was north Cambridgeshire’s apparently rampant pigeon population.

Wheat harvest has been much more challenging. Our shared combine, a John Deere CTS owned and operated by colleague Andrew Jacobs, made short work of cutting my 40ha of milling Solstice between showers.

But drying the resulting 400t cut at an average of 19.4% moisture was a longer process. I have a ramshackle collection of grain stores, which while satisfactory from a storage point of view, do not have good drying facilities.

The logical answer to drying grain has for some years been a pair of Opico/GT portable driers. Most of the work is done by the “newer” 12t model, bought second-hand some years ago and powered by a “classic” 1980 John Deere 4040 tractor with fitted engine protection.

While the fixed costs of this arrangement are modest, the fuel steadily drunk by the tractor is significant and the drier propane cost about £3/t dried.

But the frightening cost would be the labour element, largely from yours truly operating the set-up.

All things considered, I am pleased we have pressed on. Every bit we gather between the showers is safe, and milling premiums are showing some much needed improvement.

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